Cowboy hats and West Coast gangster rap
Hear the beard: When word got out that Will Oldham was set to play a free in-store set at Armadillo Music in Davis, speculation swelled. Would the sometimes actor (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure) show up—as he is wont to do—dressed in cutoffs and flip-flops? Some wondered about the possible state of his beard. As it turned out, the artist also known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy was here to play songs from his latest album What the Brothers Sang, a collection of Everly Brothers covers. Sound like an odd juxtaposition? It’s not, really. Oldham’s lean into the duo’s classic country-pop-rock music doesn’t stray too far from his own Appalachian-worn sound. Joined by Faun Fables singer Dawn McCarthy and guitarist Emmett Kelly, Oldham appeared in a natty gray suit and cowboy hat, facial hair present but neatly contained. For nearly an hour, the trio commanded the packed, swelteringly hot shop with a collection of songs made famous by siblings Don and Phil. Oldham’s mournful voice swooped and soared, accompanied by McCarthy’s clear and powerful vocals on numbers such as “Devoted to You,” “Love Hurts,” “My Little Yellow Bird” and “Walking the Dog.” Throughout, Oldham seemed cheerful—despite the store’s “hot and dry heat,” which, the Kentucky native noted, was worse than his preferred “hot and wet heat”). Maybe the good mood stemmed from a preshow trek to the nearby Davis Beer Shoppe? Perhaps he was just happy to hang out in a record store, even instructing the crowd to help him find a particular Tom Fogerty album as the trio set up to play. I’d like to think it had something to do with his dapper getup and tidy beard.
Hiii and mighty: West Coast gangster rap’s new poet laureate, Black Hippy’s Ab-Soul packed Ace of Spades for a solo show on Thursday, March 28. Now, I’m not going to start the argument over who was the last West Coast gangster-rap poet laureate, but the torch has definitely been passed here. The freshman catapulted his way into the hip-hop world alongside Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and ScHoolboy Q last year with the release of his album Control System. Ab-Soul describes the sound as “when sci-fi met swag,” and certainly the record is a combination of intellectual, thought-provoking dissertations and laid back, big blunt, West Coast trunk rattle.
Or, Ab-Soul is what Nas would sound like if he grew up in Carson, California.
The widespread success of Ab-Soul, Black Hippy and TDE is due to an underlying movement known as HiiiPower. Spelled with three I’s to represent the concept of the third eye, there is a new kind of consciousness present. The music here is less self-righteous than self-reflective. These artists are doing for this generation what N.W.A did for the kids of the ’90s: They hold a mirror up to what today’s youth faces—forcing the mainstream media, and thus, the rest of the world, to look at the reality.
Yes, Ab-Soul says “bitches” and “hos” and does a bunch of drugs, but the sharp insights and generational diagnoses on tracks like “Double Standards” and “Terrorist Threats” prove he’s more than another sexism-peddling lean junkie. You can’t help but feel he would have been just as at home being born a few decades earlier and rolling around with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.
Ab-Soul’s Ace of Spades show sparked with an intense, high energy from the start—due in large part to the fact that the opening acts didn’t suck.
For example, Sac’s Soosh*E knows how to turn a crowd up. His set was a fresh, fun combination of club bangers and boom bap. One of the biggest surprises of the night however, was Iman Malika—from DLRN—who makes incredible music solo under the name of Nami Ramo, and if you like that soulful, poetic, Billie Holiday-meets-Erykah Badu vibe, be sure not to miss her next time she takes the stage.