When you talk about the feel of live, vibrant hip hop, the raw, organic nature of Sonar is quite evident as soon as you walk through doors of the warehouse that houses the space. There would be no better place in Baltimore to have underground favorites Phonte Coleman and Pat Douthit, better known to the denizens as Phonte and 9th Wonder. The reconnection of these brethren couldn't come at a better time, when the music industry is still trying to figure out how to survive in a technology-based era and faltering economy. These so-called hurdles haven't hindered some of the hardest-working and well-respected individuals in the hip hop, and music world, for that matter. I have been looking forward to witnessing a true hip hop show from Phonte, 9th, Khrysis, Median, Sean Boog, HaLo (aka Mr. Ben Ready), DJ Flash, and unsung heroine Rapsody. Each of these pieces of the proverbial hip hop puzzle forms a dynamic that you just don't find in our musical realm.
Arriving at 407 East Saratoga Street with fellow hip hop head DJ Black Wizard around 9PM, it was a tad bit surprising that there wasn't a line wrapped around the corner for this show, especially after the rave reviews from the previous night's show at BB Kings and Sunday's fiesta in DC at the Black Cat. Being a Tuesday evening most likely lightened the crowd that showed up, but for those in attendance, a treat was about to be serve on a turntable platter. Seeing familiar faces throughout the venue wasn't surprising, since the Baltimore hip hop scene is a tad bit insular. Seeing Gypsy Soul, UllNevaNo, Kelly Connelly (who would be front and center during a crucial part of the show later), and other notable personalities in the house, made for a night to be remembered. The Away Team, comprised of "Mr. On The Board With The Heat" himself Khrysis and rhyme partner Sean Boog, were finishing their set. Fresh off the release of the acclaimed album Scars and Stripes, they managed to keep the energized crowd entertained. Too bad I didn't get the opportunity to see them open the show in the manner that I expected, but I'm confident by the crowd response that they did justice to the Jamla Family name. There was no time for a breather or letdown, because it was apparent that hip hop royalty was about to make an appearance. 9th Wonder made his presence felt behind the wheels of steel, bringing a steely confidence and humble approach to the stage. Rocking his Zulu Nation pendant courtesy of Woodville Inc., he set the stage, figuratively and otherwise, for Miss Evans, known around these parts as Rapsody (who is also going by her other nomenclature Rap Diddy). The sea of hands in the air when these two connected on a musical vibe signaled that a show was in town. Rapsody blessed the Sonar faithful with song after song from Return Of The B-Girl and her newest project Thank H.E.R. Now. She showed why she is considered a rhyme phenom, commanding the stage with her demeanor and confidence.
There are only a select few emcees who can command the stage with sheer presence---Phonte is definitely that artist. Once 9th threw on the "Superman Theme", you knew that a special performance was in order. Phonte Coleman took the stage, to the delight of the crowded venue. With hands in the air throughout Sonar, Phonte launched into "Dance In The Reign" from his acclaimed solo venture Charity Starts At Home. Bananas! Phonte was relentless on the mic, be it with his exceptional lyrical talents or freestyle prowess. In all black everything, he blacked out a few times on the freestyle tip, even mentioning a few of those in attendance in the crowd (shout out to Kelly Connelly and CarolinaWare). It was good to see the chemistry in effect with Phonte and 9th, as they played off each other with not missing a beat, literally or figuratively. Phonte rhymed, Phonte sang, Phonte conducted the "Baltimore Mass Choir", Phonte preached to the faithful Sonar crowd in attendance. If you know anything about this dynamic individual, charisma and wit are part of the package. During his lengthy set, Phonte took time to discuss the VERY public airing out of dirty laundry with his Little Brother cohort, and then tossed around the pseudo-SAT word "PERPETUITY". Of course what he was saying made perfect sense, so it was a great thing to hear that these two are able to move forward and create dope music, together or individually.
If you thought the show was ending with prime cuts from Charity Starts At Home, you were sadly mistaken. Phonte took the crowd down Little Brother memory lane. Median joined Phonte on stage to hit the crowd with "Band Practice" and other Phonte/Median joints. These two have an undeniable dynamic when rhyming together, and it was quite evident on this Tuesday evening. Around the venue, you could see everyone looking attentively at the lesson being delivered on that stage. I could on and on about minute details that prevailed throughout the evening, but I will keep those cherished memories for now. What I can tell you is that one of the highlights was Phonte inviting the entire Jamla camp to share in the spotlight while 9th threw on "Lovin' It", one of my all-time favorite LB joints. No words can describe the energy that was on that Sonar stage and in the thick crowd. It was an awesome experience to say the least.
Once the performance was over, you could feel nothing but love in the place. Networking, pounds, hugs, flicks, and a general sense of success was permeating the atmosphere. Verdict: one of the best performances I've experienced!
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