Mursday night special

Hip-hop collaboration blows up El Rey stage

Bernz of ¡MAYDAY! and Murs trading verses at the El Rey.

Bernz of ¡MAYDAY! and Murs trading verses at the El Rey.

¡MAYDAY! and Murs, Wednesday, Nov. 19, El Rey Theatre

Despite never having heard of ¡MAYDAY! before, I was sold on their show at the El Rey last Wednesday (Nov. 19) based entirely on Murs—with whom they shared the stage—being the shit.

Murs is a former member of the California hip-hop collective Living Legends, see, which is, like, legendary in underground rap circles. He’s also worked extensively with Atmosphere’s Slug, released eight solo albums and has a well-deserved reputation as a killer live act. Turns out he’d done a collaborative album, ¡Mursday!, with the Miami-based group and was on tour in support of it, and the two would be performing together in Chico.

I showed up in the middle of a set from Kap Kallous, another Floridian (now L.A.-based) on the tour. Most impressive were his a capella spots, which were like beat poetry delivered with white-hot aggression. Musically, he sounds like a technically oriented Paul Wall (you know, that Southern rapper with the diamond-encrusted braces) who favors bass as nasty as his sexual references. Most memorably, Kallous asked the audience, “Who likes drugs?” then earnestly inquired as to where all the bad bitches were at.

The evening was a showcase for Strange Music, a hip-hop label owned by none other than Tech N9ne—the nastiest in all the land—and it continued with Ces Cru, a hip-hop duo made up of Godemis (Donnie King) and Ubiquitos (Mike Viglione) out of Kansas City, Mo. My initial impression was lukewarm—the catch-me-if-you-can-flows were brought down by unremarkable subject matter ranging from acquiring cash money to getting super laid.

Then the duo did something I’ve never seen before. Facing each other from opposite ends of the stage, Godemis and Ubiquitos went seriously a capella, rapping the same lines, one slightly behind the other precisely enough to sound like an echo. It was next-level MC interplay, and they kept it up for about three minutes.

After Ces Cru’s set, two dudes dressed like cops appeared onstage and looked real enough I’m pretty sure a few members of the audience stomped out their lit joints. Turns out the cops were the percussionist and DJ for ¡MAYDAY! Murs, along with Wrekonize and Bernz of ¡MAYDAY! followed in orange jumpsuits (there was an incarceration theme going on) and the energy level went through the roof. The rappers were highly animated and all over the stage, while the percussionist switched between a conventional drum kit and a separate percussion setup with congas and such. (Said percussionist also pulled off an absolutely unreal robo-dance later in the set.)

Murs didn’t disappoint—his mic presence was commanding, his intonations crystal-clear and highly expressive—and Wrekonize and Bernz certainly held their own in terms of chops.

Most of their jams could be described as “crunk”—e.g. “Spiked Punch,” “Zones” and “Tabletops”—but the clear standout, “Here,” is of a much more downtempo style. It begins with an eerie, orchestral arpeggiation loop and a prechorus sung by Wrekonize: “We were going to be something/We were going to be stars/We were going to be on one/We were going to be Gods.” Thematically, the gist is that the group feels left out of their own genre—that they’re worthy of mainstream recognition but remain outsiders continually “slept on,” as Bernz raps. That sentiment is best summed up by Murs’ short-and-sweet verse: “They treated me like an outcast/But not like Big and Three Stacks”—references to The Notorious B.I.G. and André 3000 (of Outkast)—“I saw them players ballin’/And knew that I’d never be that.”

It’s odd that this song is still “underground,” because its broad appeal is obvious. But considering the electro-R&B stuff now passed off as hip-hop on Top 40 radio, maybe the music Murs and ¡MAYDAY! have made really doesn’t belong there.