The Windup Space doesn't book hip-hop shows very often, but it’s proven that when it does, it gets it right. Saturday night’s bill was in many ways the perfect trio of acts to represent Baltimore rap at the venue: left-field and approachable enough for the Station North crowd, but still hip-hop to the core. Live rap band Soul Cannon has roots at the space–guitarist Matt Frazao co-curates the weekly Out of Your Head improv night–and it brought along the deliriously fun girl group the Get Em Mamis and the iconoclastic MCs of Mania Music Group to complete the bill.
Mania Music Group’s original three-man roster has been performing together as a group for about two years now, but shortly before the release of its new album, Welcome To The Audience, it brought female rapper Milly July into the fold. And though she fits well into the label’s established musical sensibility, Saturday’s set showed signs that it hasn’t quite worked her into the polished stage show yet.
She began the night with two solo cuts, with RapMan Ron G. playing hypeman, and the songs were solid, but some microphone feedback appeared to shake her confidence. And since much of the other material performed that night was recorded before her joining the group, she didn’t show up much for the rest of the set, except to come out and wave goodbye after the guys’ closing posse cut “Blown Out.”
The second rapper Mania featured was Dappa!! Dan Midas, the label’s most seasoned performer, and he showed his pedigree by pulling the crowd closer to the stage and turning heads with his new look–a mohawk and sleeveless denim jacket–before mocking his own Mr. T-like appearance. Ron G’s solo performance was more straightforward and no-frills, but still compelling, while Kane Mayfield’s goofball persona was on full display as he worked the crowd. Mania jumped all over its deep back catalog for the setlist, but the emphasis was on the just released new album, including guest turns by Greenspan and Soul Cannon’s Eze Jackson, respectively, on the singles “Study My Dreams” and “Love Thang.”
The Get Em Mamis suffered some technical setbacks during their performance, but the duo of Roxzi and Symphony didn’t let a skipping CD slow them down too much. Their rep for party-starting dance tracks is the emphasis on their new mixtape Pop, Rocks & Soda, and they leaned heavy on frantic beats such as “Over Here” and “Party Like the New Year.” But they’ve still got an ear for hard midtempo hip-hop, and their summer jam “Alpines Kickin’” got the crowd moving as well as any club anthem.
As good as the first two acts were, Soul Cannon undeniably owned the stage as soon as the band stepped on it. The quartet, featuring three instrumentalists fronted by rapper Eze Jackson, pared down from a five-piece after the departure of the founding bassist a year or two back, and somehow removing that element freed the band to get louder, leaner, and meaner. The sound now is a raw nerve, Jackson’s voice hoarse with urgency and emotion as he competes with the band for the audience’s attention, tumbling syllables over anxiously stuttering rhythms.
Soul Cannon played for more than an hour, animating both older songs, such as “Dilapidated Buildings” and “Sucked Out Of A Dream” from 2008’s debut Kaboom, and newer songs from the upcoming The Mixed Ape, with fresh new twists and energetic performances. Though The Mixed Ape emphasizes a more studio-crafted sound with programmed drums and synths, Frazao and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell made songs such as “2010 A.D.” and “emceeswannarap” more dynamic and confrontational, without falling into a predictable rut of rock/rap fusion. Unsurprisingly, the audience only wanted more when the band was ready quit, and it pulled out one more song, “Claps,” that was such a perfect marriage of Soul Cannon’s pop instincts and arty ideas that it’s amazing that it wasn’t in the original set list.