If you walked into the ’Sco last Tuesday night, you would have seen College sophomore Brian Becker lifted shoulder-high by a group of hip-hoppers, cheering on the raised stage. The rappers unburdened with Becker’s weight stood to the side, pumping their fists in encouragement. Following this exhilarating moment, Becker dropped back to the ground and launched into a beat that proved less than remarkable, an anticlimax that set a precedent for an evening that primarily featured lackluster and monotonous performances.
The Northern Ohio Hip-Hop Showcase, featuring a collective of rappers known as East of Cleveland, started slow, held up by the rappers posing for pictures and milling around the bar. As people slowly filtered into the ’Sco around eleven, the show kicked off and the crowd gradually formed a small circle around the stage.
The first performer to hit the mike was one of the show’s more captivating performers, spitting philosophical lyrics that were clearly grounded in a strong sense of narrative. The DJ dropped the beat as he freestyled, rhyming with a rhythm and flow that was lacking in many of the other performances that evening.
With their tepid beats and uninspired lyrics, the folks from East of Cleveland certainly could not be considered Beasts of Cleveland: In fact, listening to them was a lot like listening to Soulja Boy. Although it was initially thrilling to hear the rappers spit rhymes that spoke of the pride and love they felt for their home city — the area code “216” was one of the more popular shout-outs of the evening — there was little depth to their poetry, as most of the performers’ lyrics highlighted a shallow reverence for sex and money.
It’s possible that this reviewer’s expectations for the evening were too high. There is, however, a profound need and demand for a stronger hip-hop presence on campus, a demand that is met in part by Oberlin’s own Wilder Hip Hop Collective. One would expect that outside performers would at least match, if not surpass, the skills of campus hip-hop groups, but unfortunately, East of Cleveland Hip Hop paled in comparison to the earth-shattering performances featured in the Hip Hop Collective’s “First Episode,” or the subversive and provocative art showcased in “The Word ‘n the Beat.”
Those who are unfamiliar with hip-hop often fail to recognize that good hip-hop is substantial and pregnant with meaning; Unlike the rappers in East of Cleveland, not all artists spit out lyrics that celebrate material consumerism and male conquest. Rapping about how awesome it is to get laid and make money is problematic in its own right, but such rhymes also feed into the popular misconception that mainstream hip-hop lacks meaning.
Although Obies shouldn’t expect to see Kid CuDi at the ’Sco on a Tuesday anytime soon, our expectations for hip-hop performers should nonetheless be high. We should expect to see in our performers the profundity and originality that are present in both underground and mainstream hip-hop. Hip-hop, and art in general, should be able to connect to some aspect of our humanity; it should serve as an honest exploration of shared conditions, experiences or raw emotions. The relentlessly shallow lyrics and insipid beats of East of Cleveland simply missed that mark.