“You guys thought it was going to be exciting and it’s fucking depressing AGAIN!”
Sawbuck looks into the crowd with slight grin on his face. “That’s just how I roll,” he says, with a shrug as he launches into the final song of the evening, one which is, as promised, depressing in theme.
Sawbuck is one half of Buck n’ Nice, a local hip hop act that is standing out in a scene that is anything but dormant. Last summer, they played Bluesfest, an experience that seems to have galvanized their desire for glory.
Last night at Zaphod’s, Sawbuck and the other half of Buck n’ Nice, DJ So Nice, gave the crowd more than a peek at their new material, a sophomore album to be titled Emag. To mark the occasion, they brought a videographer and some of their hip hop friends along.
The night was a showcase of excellent Ottawa hip hop talent. Leading off the bill was rapper G.Grand, who originates from London, ON, and whose style is remarkably old school. His beats are groove-based, with a distinct jazz influence, with a bit of Kanye-esque soul sampling thrown in.
Last night, his lyrical prowess was apparent. He has lots of swagger on stage, and he knows how to feed the crowd. That made him an excellent opener.
CircaBeatz backed him up on the tables, but it appeared that the soundman had forgotten to turn up that line, because the sound backing G.Grand was a little on the weak side, which detracted from what was otherwise a great performance. While G.Grand has been around since 2012, he has the feel of a rapper who is just hitting his stride. It’s going to be nice to see more from him in the future.
Next up was wotts, a group that is just beginning to get more recognition for their unique style. The group has a rhythm section consisting of a blues guitar, provided by Ryan Farrell, and a beatboxer, MC Dimz. The ensemble creates a sound that can only be found in one place.
wotts is a band that doesn’t take the most serious of approaches to lyric writing. Their subject matter, compared to that of G.Grand and Buck n’ Nice, is of a much more jocular nature. But what they lack in intensity, they make up for in pure fun. They have a great time on stage, and the crowd feeds on that. The beatboxing from Dimz is really enjoyable to see live. The two MCs, Jayem and E, have a flow that is reminiscent of the Beastie Boys in their prime. To top it off, they were joined on stage by the Dynamite Motel and a keyboardist known only as Melinda, helping them recreate the sound of their most recent record, b.
Next to hit the stage were the headliners, Buck n’ Nice. They were backed by CircaBeatz on a live kit, which brought a level of intensity to the set that I have rarely seen in a hip hop show. They immediately brought the tone to a much darker place, as Sawbuck recited a poem he wrote when he was depressed over the summer.
It’s clear that much of Emag comes from that same vibe. The crowd last night was treated to nearly 45 minutes of material from the new album, which must be close to all of it, and it is what one might call “gritty.” With themes of genocide and despair, the record is sounding far more introspective and challenging than the group’s debut, Us Versus Them.
They put on a great show. Sawbuck was on top of his game. He owned the stage like a tiger would his cage. And So Nice’s beats were, as usual, loud and complex simultaneously. These guys are a couple of veterans and it shows.
They’re very clearly in a place where they feel comfortable with the music they’re making. Sawbuck recounted an anecdote of someone telling them that they were offended by one of the band’s songs.
“And you know what? We made it the single,” he said.
All in all, the evening was great. It ended at 11pm, which is early for hip hop, but just right for a work night. Maybe that sounds boring, but I’m too practical to care.