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They Don’t Really Dance: G-Side at Guilford College (w/video)

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Waiting in a surprisingly swanky Guilford College “V.I.P” room (surprising given how poorly the artists were treated overall, more on that tomorrow), after an aborted attempt to perform—sound issues, no surprise—G-Side sit back, struggling to define their sound to this goofy blogger.

Anyone’s that’s heard G-Side’s Southern sincerity raps over Huntsville, Alabama’s Block Beataz country-rap-space tunes production shouldn’t be surprised that ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova hesitate a couple times before summing up their really hard-to-sum-up sound.

With the same mix of modesty and determined knowingness you catch when he says something like “A rookie in the game but I move like a damn boss” (from “Strictly Buzinezz”), Yung Clova with a smile says: “We, we don’t, we really don’t dance…”

“Yeah…We don’t do the stanky-leg-“ ST 2 Lettaz chimes-in, laughing.

“We tryin’ to bring hip-hop back for real…” Clova comes back quick, saying something every rapper tells you, but you know, G-Side really are bringing back “real hip-hop”–unless your definition of “real” stops long before Scarface, Outkast, and Eightball and MJG. ST expounds a bit:

“I’m a big Scarface fan, big Jay-Z fan…I think what makes our music sound so good is, we gotta make livin’ in Hunstville, and Athens, Alabama sound interesting to the masses, where really nothing interesting’s going on, on a day-to-day basis…but we make it sound pretty cool, know what I’m saying?”

Again with the modesty.

Despite lofty traditionalist goals and a true rap nerd’s sense of hip-hop history–—at a Guilford party after the show, you could watch ST’s lips move with every line from every Outkast, Jay-Z, Scarface, and Z-Ro song blasting from a student’s laptop–G-Side are not about nostalgia.

Rather, they’ve respectfully bowed down before their influences, internalized them, and moved-on to their own odd mix of rap humanism, shit-talk, paranoia, and ultimately, escape or if you want to get all spacey and 2001 about it–transcendence.

Notice that rarely is the group rapping in the present tense about hustling. Their music is about not having to do that anymore and space as metaphor or place to escape this fucked-up world and eventually, bring the rest of us with them.

On “Hit Da Block”, the song that begins the album’s final suite of past paranoid meets current success (after a thrilling three-song detour in R & B-ish rap), ST begins his verse with a crack-rap reminisce: “We three-deep on the interstate…” A lot of rappers’d be bragging about a past crime, but every detail ST drops further illustrates why this was a bad fucking idea.

One of the passengers’ P.O’s told him he’s “supposed to stay in the state” but ST counters the risk with the hood utopian justification: “but we can’t sleep til’ we know that all our niggas ate”. But then we’re back to the danger: “I’m only 21 and I could probably get more years than that if they find what’s in the trunk…”–more a mix of excitement and storytelling morality of Rae and Ghost or Geto Boys than all-out crack-rap bragging.

When G-Side perform “Hit Da Block”, ST steps-up for his verse, sinks into the cicada synths and paranoid, wordless vocals of the beat and puts his hand out like he’s casually driving. Clova bounces by his side and you see them transported to just a few years ago when being “three-deep on the interstate” was real-life.

Clova’s got his flashback moment on the song too, intensely stepping-forward and telling an audience of Guilfordians: “My homeboy just got busted for a few grams/On the back street trapping in a Trans-Am.” The point though is, that’s not what they’re doing anymore and ugly memories are fodder for their raps that contrast with their current situation–not grabs for “street-cred”.

Explaining their color-coordinated outfits for the show, ST notes, “Well they say, purple is like, for nobility and royalty, and we’ve been living like kings ever since Starshipz dropped, so it was kind of fitting.” ST’s voice lifts a bit and he looks over to Clova–the group’s relative success puts a smile on his face too—and I’m reminded of the sense of joy and wonder that races through the still world-weary album.

That mix of joy and world-weariness is the result of the stars aligning–no pun intended. Block Beataz stoned thump finding an ideal partnership with ST and Clova’s confessional rhymes. When the two talk about Starshipz, they use the same word as critics: “Cohesive”.

ST explains that all the work’s done in the studio, Block Beataz playing G-Side skeletal versions of the final product, ST and Clova writing and rapping to that skeleton and then, “after the fact”, Mali Boi and C.P will “go back and build around [their] vocals”. I’m reminded of the making of… stories for those early Outkast classics, but also tales of Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 1, where Dilla had Slum rapping over the most rudimentary of beats that he later exploded into clips of voice, guitar, Rhodes, and whatever else.

And even when Block Beataz and G-Side do a club song, they don’t leave the experimentation or personality behind. “Rubba Bandz” claps and beeps like a joint for Gucci Mane and the last bunch of tracks (“Hit Da Block” to “Run Thingz”) are rave-rap ready but you know, closer to actual rave music. Not Polow Da Don’s regressive retro-futurism, but this powerful mix of joy and sadness, pleasure and pain.

On Starshipz closer “Run Thingz”—the raveiest or rave beats–Clova ends with an image of G-Side destroying their underground status: “they tried to put us incognito/I got a Grammy and walked the carpet with the Slo-Mo”. The genius of Clova’s imagined scene is that he speaks about it like it already happened or that it’s at least, a foregone conclusion. Bragging based less on shit-talk than some bullnecked belief that it’ll happen.

The group seems beyond affected by music bullshit, probably aware that stuff like “Lollipop” gets Grammy nominated and contemporary classics rarely do, but fine with employing it as a kinda metaphor and just happy to have a dope CD out that’s selling “really really well…” as ST reminded me more than once.

When asked about their contribution to Fear and Loathing in Hunts Vegas, “Real Good”, ST affects a Tyler Perry’s Madea sass and angrily but jokingly tells me “We didn’t get paid for that Fear & Loathing song that we was on Hunts Vega…blah…blah…”.

He’s annoyed but clearly prefers to let that one go and laugh with me about the song’s line that rivals any ‘Ball & MJG punchline: “My nuts is numb and then I had to hit her/This bitch tries to put a finger in my shitter”. Clova’s eyes grow big “That song’s on there?!” and ST smacks his hands on the chair’s arms: “Yes it really happened…” They take a similarly wizened attitude towards the nothing short of a debacle that is this show at Guilford.

So….this show. Let me begin by saying, if you want to put a group of musicians to the test, surround them with a group of clueless kids and security guards that’ve scheduled a show for exactly 8 o’clock that inexplicably, ends with a DJ set from a student and begins with the two, higher-paid, out-of-town groups.

Factor in said big-headed student DJ not budging on times and seemingly unimpressed by Baltimore’s preminent out-there, next-level rappers Mania Music Group and The FADER celebs G-Side, despite cribbing his entire laptop DJ style from places like The FADER and Baltimore’s Dan Deacon, and you expect a mess on your hands.

But G-Side and MANIA Music Group (more on them tomorrow) took the entire thing in-stride, really just wanting to perform really bad for a bunch of kids they’d never otherwise encounter.

G-Side at one point, faced the humiliation of walking off the stage when the sound continually cut-off and returned twenty minutes later to only slightly better sound as if nothing was wrong, did a quick set of “Strictly Buzinezz”, “Hit Da Block”, “Rubba Bandz”, and “Speed of Sound” thanked everyone profusely and showed up at a fairly insane Guilford party an hour later, doing JELLO-O shots and chilling-out on a couch listening to Z-Ro, talking rap with me and a few others.

Written by Brandon

March 26th, 2009 at 3:31 am