Black Rock City Allstars
Veteran Reno rapper Metaphysical noticed a glaring gap at the Burning Man festival: no hip hop. Metaphysical, a seasoned MC, DJ, sonic architect and a leader in Reno’s hip hop community, has been attending the annual mind-blowing gala in the desert since the event’s 1990s heyday. But he noticed the music veered in two directions: high-energy, repetitive, drop-Ecstasy-and-dance-all-night house and trance music on the one hand, and mellow, acoustic chill-out music and reggae on the other hand.
And nothing in between: No upbeat music with consciousness and immediacy—nothing with a hip hop soul. Hip hop offers something more than a good beat that you can dance to: lyrical content. It’s song-oriented, conversational music—it offers songs with a narrative arc and something to say.
Metaphysical joined up with Tripknight, a loose aggregate of Reno and San Francisco musicians, MCs, DJs and other performers. The group set up the Freestyle Palace, a theme camp focused on live improvisation on microphones and instruments. It’s a place for spontaneous hip hop music. However, if you’re a creative person, and you care about your craft, you can only jam for so long before the desire to develop something more polished kicks in. And before the 2008 Burning Man festival, the Reno branch of Tripknight took the name The Black Rock City Allstars and recorded an album, American Dream, to give away free at the festival and subsequent shows.
“It’s not just one week in the desert,” says Tampa, an MC and a key member of The BRC Allstars. “You’ve got to make the decision to put the work in.”
In addition to Metaphysical and Tampa, the other members of the BRC Allstars include the MCs Dove, Platina and Steez and the DJs and producers Danny Spade and DJ Femur.
“We wanted a DJ that could speak the house and trance languages, but say hip hop things,” says Metaphysical, “And DJ Femur knows how to do that.”
The BRC Allstars music is a hybrid of the high-energy dance music that the Burning Man raver crowd eats up and innovative-but-traditional hip hop.
“We’re not just a Burning Man group,” says Metaphysical. “I see it as, this is our crossover … a way of reaching out and connecting with whole new groups of people.”
The BRC Allstars regularly collaborates with the local burlesque group Bohocrush and local fire spinners Controlled Burn. (Fire spinner Roritory is married to DJ Femur and a regular performer at BRC Allstars shows.) The BRC Allstars have also collaborated with other local rap artists, like Who Cares.
“Black Rock City is a common stomping ground,” says Metaphysical. “Whether you’re a fire dancer or a singer, or you’re just really good at riding your bike, you can bring it to the streets.”
American Dream is an eclectic album. In addition to the seamless blend of hip hop and high-energy dance music, there are hints and snippets of folksy country and Western, jazz beats and even a prominent Pink Floyd sample.
Away from the festival, the group has played some high-profile Bay Area decompression parties and other events, as well as semi-regular local shows. (They’re playing two on New Year’s Eve—check out the column note for details.) Their shows, like their music, combine traditional hip hop with the free-flowing, anything-goes atmosphere of the festival.
“It’s like a little hip hop carnival,” says Tampa.