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Mayan MagicIn front of the regal Mayan, host of the Keith Tamashiro benefit concert. Photo by APA.

Mayan Magic

APA's blow-by-blow of I See You Presents: Word of Mouth meets Brainfreeze, the Keith Tamashiro benefit concert at the Mayan Theater, May 17, 2006.

By Chi Tung

7:25 pm: This is my first time at the Mayan, and it really is quite a splendid backdrop: an enormous balcony, tasteful flourescent lighting, not a dud seat in the house. There's a buzz surrounding the concert unlike any other hip-hop show I've ever attended in Los Angeles; we'll see if it's able to make the quantum leap.

8:32 pm: Off to a late start (tip-off time was scheduled for 7 pm), but no one seems to mind. The Beat Junkies, a turntablist supergroup, are up first.

9:01 pm: The acoustics at the Mayan are fantastic, and the Beat Junkies capitalized, throwing down a series of synchronized loops, breakbeats, and playing off one another beautifully. Babu (also of Dilated Peoples) and the renowned Shortkut are the standouts here; Shortkut possesses more off-the-cuff ingenuity while Babu is a technical marvel who stops just short of showiness. J. Rocc and Rhettmatic round out the furious foursome.

9:45 pm: The most highly anticipated segment of the night: the return of Brainfreeze, a legendary collaboration between two turntablism giants, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. Both are self-deprecating, witty, and humble in paying homage to Keith. Shadow attempts to downplay the significance of the about-to-get-underway set, but to no avail. The crowd is going bonkers.

10:15 pm: A near-flawless performance that managed to live up to the hoopla. There were several occasions when a note or beat hung on for just a shade too long, but with samples as savory as these, who cares? And it's only part one -- after the 30-minute set, Shadow and Cut announced they would be back to finish what they started. Part one was mostly vintage soul and funk, scattered with a few progressive hip-hop tracks, before progressive became synonymous with dull.

10:32 pm: Some dude named Supernatural is about to get his shine. Time for a Heineken break.

10:46 pm: Supernatural turns out to be awesome -- even if he's strictly a one-trick pony. I could see how heavy doses of this guy might lead to supreme overkill, but on a bill as monstrous as this one, he's perfect: impersonating famous rappers (though Biggie's is a bit of a stretch), rapping about people's accessories (doing it on the spot, on-point and with a tireless flow not unlike, say, Busta Rhymes), and in general, just being a freestyling wizard. To cap off his set, Supernat announces that at the upcoming Rock The Bells Concert, he'll be attempting to break the freestyling world record. Which, as it stands, is over eight hours long. Who keeps track of stuff like this?

11:23 pm: Dilated Peoples takes the stage and lead emcee Evidence is all. jacked. up. Seriously, animated doesn't even begin to describe the guy -- wild hand motions, jerky headbobs, and everything. Rakaa, on the other hand, is a bit more subdued, although his leaden feet and laborious flow made for an interesting contrast to Evidence's livewire act. All the requisite hits are played, including my personal fave, "Worst comes to Worst." Babu concludes the set with some more turntabling acrobatics. Keith's name is invoked on several occasions, which is a nice gesture. So far, the focus has been on celebrating rather than hand-wringing. Definitely a good look.

12:06 am: I know X-Clan are super important and, like, where would rap's social conscience be without them and groups like Public Enemy, but I never got into them musically or ideologically. They were also a bit before my time, which I know is a flimsy excuse (so are many other greats), but I'm hoping lets me off the hook somewhat. Tonight's performance did little to alter my perception, although it's a testament to Keith's reptuation that these guys bothered to show up. Wish I could make out the lyrics more clearly, although, to my pleasant surprise, coherence has been a relative non-factor for most of the other acts. No one's got a case of the mealy mouth, or needed hypemen.

12:42 am: Brainfreeze is back, and though it's less rousing the second time around (the selection pandered a bit too much to the nu-skool, methinks), the crowd still laps it up. What's most striking is that, even after redefining and retooling the art of turntablism, Shadow and Cut remain unfadeable in their dedication to musical history. And that goes for all forms of music; hip-hop just happens to be one of them.

12:58 am: It is now officially the longest show I've ever attended. And headlining act Jurassic 5 is still waiting in the wings.

1:12 am: J5 are all systems go, and it's a beauty to watch: four ace emcees, and not one throwaway line. They also never hog the mic or lose sight of breath control, and their immaculate synchronicity must represent some sort of glitch in the hip-hop matrix: rappers today aren't supposed to harmonize like this. When they decided to trot out some new stuff (from their upcoming album, out in July), no one seemed to mind, even though they have such an exhaustive supply of stone-cold classics. Those they got around to anyways, and evergreen gems like "Quality Control" and "Action Satisfaction" were exactly that. And any discussion about crowd control begins and ends with these guys -- you won't see any half-hearted wave or soulless chants in their company. As if that weren't enough, they do it all with a twinkle in their eye, which on a night like this, is an absolute must.

2:05 am: It's a wrap. An end-to-end burner, with memorable performances and oak-strong comradeship aplenty. Undoubtedly the hip-hop show to beat in Los Angeles. Keep your head up, Keith.



Asia Pacific Arts