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41YO.COM: Mania Music Group at Guilford College (w/video)

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So this is also running at this Baltimore music website that I’m going to be involved in. Expect more content like this over there soon.

Perhaps the best introduction to Mania Music Group–a group of oddball Baltimore rappers (Dappa Dan Midas, Rapman Ron G, and Kane Mayfield) put together by producers Dwayne “Headphones” Lawson and Brandon Lackey—is through track 5 of the Mania Music Mixtape. Using the airy beat of Saigon’s “Gotta Believe It”, Mania transform the umpteenth “local rappers rapping over a radio beat” gimmick into a song all their own. Ron kicks it off, commenting on the beat like it’s the first time he’s ever heard it:

“Okay, this the slow-ass shit…feel like I’m dancing on some sugar with a bunch of babies in my hand no tank-top on, whatcha wanna do with me? This sound like I’m flying in the sky with a bunch of dinosaurs with sandals on…”

You hear the Mania Music crew cackling in the background and then Ron drops a determined verse as serious and intense as his intro was goofy and off-the cuff. It begins “Vote Ron for president, legalize weed…”, touches on a nationwide disgust (“As I watch FOX News can’t believe what I see/But then again I can ‘cause I know my country…”) and curls back in to the personal, describing a utopian future ideal for Ron, friends, and family: “Puffin’ good at the cook-out bumpin’ the Isleys/Chompin’ on fried chicken, sippin’ on Hi-C/Chillin’ with fam on land that belong to We”. Love that “land belong to We” line…

Kane Mayfield sneaks in next, his flow’s as nimble as Ron’s but even less casual—his Long Island, NY roots are clear—and he goes off, picking pieces of frustration from Ron’s first verse and expounding on them for nearly two minutes straight.

Excitedly, Dappa Dan Midas tells the group “I just got a hook, I just got a hook real quick”, Ron and Kane encourage him to step-up, and he belts-out, part a beautiful croon, part a desperate warble: “This is for all the people, who done lost someone tonight, just know that we love you!”. Midas expands the group’s inner turmoil raps into a love-shout to everyone else…and then Ron returns and kills it again. Goddamn! You literally hear the track coming together, the Mania crew laughing at one another, whispering not-quite off-mic encouragement to one another, and making a song equal parts touching and fun.

What’s so great about this “Gotta Believe It” re-fix is how it’s fully-formed and on-the-spot at the same time. That’s not a bad descriptor of Mania Music in-person too. See, you don’t so much interview Mania, as within moments of meeting them, become a member of the Mania family, and spin-around in the whirl of in-jokes and hospitality they spit-out in every direction.

Rehearsing for their performance along with Alabama’s G-Side and an alumnus from Guilford College DJ, Kane Mayfield walks off the stage and smacks his knee. “I got a knee-pad on—” he tells me.

I get the impression he may wear it all the time because who knows when he might feel the need to slide across the floor…there doesn’t seem to be a divide between on and off-stage for Mania, they’re the same whether performing, on the radio the next day, or eating burgers at this great North Carolina burger joint, COOK-OUT.

Right now though, the knee-pad makes sense, as Kane eyes the basketball court floor and more importantly, the laser-tag event being set-up at the other half of the gym. That these two events are scheduled at the same time, but are totally separate should’ve been a sign that this show might end up a bit of a mass.

Why the two aren’t merged into some liberal arts school version of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable comes to mind immediately…a good example of the lack of creativity at-work at Guilford. Promoter of the show/Guilford student Adam Katzmann agrees on the lack of foresight.

Katzmann’s the master-mind behind this G-Side/Mania show, and I’ve witnessed him destroy walls of red-tape to make it happen, including a wonderfully obnoxious concern by school committee that bringing rappers to Guilford could be “problematic”, and a month-prior, constant hustle to get funding. As a result—understandably so—he’s tied to the whims of organizations that gave him the money to pay the groups.

And so yeah, laser-tag and hip-hop in the same gymnasium—we’ll later learn laser tag will also blast music the entire night even during the concert—and a schedule that begins promptly at eight o’clock with Mania Music Group, then onto G-Side, and inexplicably, wraps-up with a DJ from the school, paid far less than the groups and not from out-of-town.

Mania smile and joke and practice through all these little looming details—it’s their first out of town show, G-Side’s as well—and begin reasoning with those around them. The DJ, who rocks a Baltimore Orioles hat, claims Baltimore as his hometown (he’s also wearing a wack track-jacket, but we’re not judging, right?), has no interest in helping some honest-to-god rappers from his hometown, won’t switch times, and won’t even do an intro set until people show-up. He wants to go on at ten o’clock. A big shot.

So Mania have their DJ, DJ Blak Majik, spin some music as the gym slowly but steadily fills and just as Mania are about to come-on and perform, the power goes out. Twenty minutes later, it comes back on—we later learn someone stepped on a plug, pulling it from the socket—and it’s nine o’clock and Mania are told, they’ve missed their chance to perform.

And a person who somehow has something to do with this show, breathes-out, in her best approximation of “tough-shit”, “Well, Mania didn’t want to perform when there weren’t people here so G-Side are coming out now.” These bands are being paid. A decent amount of money. To perform.

Rather than re-arrange the show a bit or you know, cut into the two fucking hours some third-rate laptop DJ who used to go to the school is allotted, Mania get a check but are told they cannot perform. G-Side come out, try to perform to awful sound that keeps cutting-off, walk off, wait twenty minutes to perform a second time (sound still sucks, G-Side kill it anyway).

Between G-Side’s first attempt and their shortened set a bit later, Mania start scheming. Sure, they’ve got their check but these guys want to get out there and rap, because they know they can. At some point, Mania brilliantly rush the stage and just start rapping.

Midas performs “Brass Knuckles” from his Live from the Arcade EP. The song’s an electro-banger piece of battle-rap—what “hipster rap” should sound like—and Midas spits it angrily but playfully to a crowd that’s all like “whoaretheseguys??” blown-away. Bouncing, posing, and jerking like a rap Otis Redding, Midas exclaims “Right now I’m feeling LL-cocky with the underdog spirit of a black-ass Rocky” and pauses for a student’s camera in a boxer pose.

Dwayne “Headphones” Lawson walks to the stage, tells everyone they’ve been here since seven o’clock—the sequence of events is all the more tragic because Mania were total professionals about showing up, rehearsing, etc.—and that they’re gonna do one more song but they’d love to do more.

Mania perform “Blown Out”. It’s a slow-burn on the recording but they turn it into a fresh, fever of spitting, that ends up being beat-less when the sound goes out twenty-seconds in. Mania don’t miss a beat and do the whole song acapella—“Amish-style” says Kane—and if you didn’t know better, you’d think it’s the point in a show where the rappers drop the beat out to show you how dope they are. Mania just are this dope.

The crew’s not so much angry as disappointed. Immediately, they make plans to return on better terms, thank Adam a great deal, make fun of a certain pompadour-ed student with too much attitude (“Major douche chills” says Brandon Lackey) and we all follow Kane’s brother, a Greensboro, NC resident, to COOK-OUT for burgers.

It all becomes immediate fuel for jokes and Mania’s own kind of mock-myth-making. Kane likens it to Footlose…rap music outlawed…Mania the small college’s worst nightmare. Midas, while deciding which milkshake he’s gonna get, mocks his own melancholy by singing a few lines from Kanye’s “Say You Will”.

Ron G’s just kinda blown away. He’ll joke about it and break-it-down on Guilford’s radio station (in an interview hosted by Adam) the next day, but right now, it seems oddly close to his sapient raps about injustice that Ron’ll stick between “dinosaurs with sandals on” jokes.

Adam Katzmann, the show’s organizer and the guy who’s gotta see all these fucking kids for two more years, can’t help but point out the ugly irony of taking celebratory classes about Marx or Che with the kids who treated a bunch of good-natured, willing-to-perform rappers like dissidents.

We follow Kane’s brother back to Guilford and Mania Music (and G-Side) tear it up at a three-building-and-a-lawn party that’s “straight out of Superbad” according to Midas. An hour or so later, surrounded by dancing, shouting, tripping, drunken students, Brandon Lackey’s sending mp3s of Mania’s music to a student’s laptop to play—they’re planning an impromptu show in a dorm room—but this too is cut short when public safety show-up to cool the party down. And it’s Footloose all over again.

-You can download all of Mania Music Group’s stuff for free on their website

-Also, check out “Lunatic Fringe” by Al Shipley from the Baltimore City Paper, it’s a feature on Mania Music from a bunch of months ago.

Written by Brandon

March 28th, 2009 at 3:22 am