“I don’t like hiphop.”
How was your weekend? I spent mine inviting friends to see Aceyalone tonight at the Crown Room—and being repeatedly turned down cold. “No thanks; I don’t like hiphop,” several have said. Now, before you jump to conclusions about the company I keep *, let’s admit that in Portland, this is a familiar if regrettable refrain. But why? In a town that’s so inherently rebellious and articulate, you’d think hiphop would be the coin of the realm. After all, a good MC can cram more incendiary ideas and clever wordplay into a three-minute “flow,” than Arlo Guthrie could eek out in 18 minutes of Alice’s Restaurant. What’s not to love?
You haven’t met Aceyalone.
Detractors are quick to point out that hiphop doesn’t always deliver. Too often, hustlers, ho’s, and club-compatible, dumbed-down dance beats drown out what should be a sophisticated showcase of the spoken word. But discerning listeners need to stop throwing the proverbial babies out with the endless flood of industry bathwater. After all, if you said you didn’t like country music, you’d miss out on Willie Nelson**. If you claimed you couldn’t stand folk, you’d exclude game-changers like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. And if you broadly wave away rap and hiphop, you’ll never lend your ear to brilliant MC’s like Aceyalone.
Here are a couple tracks Acey put out in 1995, that still sounded brand-new and brilliant when I first heard them in 2007 via friends at local animation studio LAIKA. Animators—typically obsessed with creativity, novelty and craftsmanship—unsurprisingly connected with Acey’s album All Balls Don’t Bounce.
Listen up as Acey takes on the role of a teacher, patiently orienting us to basic “hip-hology,” using a mind-bending hybrid of the words “arithmetic,” “meticulous,” and “rhythm,” (and possibly even “arrhythmia”) as a manifesto for his calculating, challenging rhymes.
Now, here’s a track with more hooks than velcro. Between a piquant vibraphone loop and a soulful “uh-huh,” Acey explains how his angst propels him helplessly into the life of a poet. Deliberately departing from gangsta-thug clichés, he firmly defines himself as scholar-before-baller.
Okay, okay. This concludes the lecture. These days, the prolific Acey seems to have pulled back a bit on his pedantic rants and made peace with his place on the scene. Though he’s no household name, he’s still captured enough insider clout and attracted enough great collaborators to back up the boast that he’s “automatic at it.” Hence, let’s close with this slick submission.
Aceyalone will be at The Crown Room with Rashaan Ahmad, Theory Hazit, and the Reva Devito Band. The show starts at 9pm for a ridiculously reasonable 5 dollars. Erstwhile hiphop haters, it’s past time you came out of your comfort zone and into the flow.
Most of the company I keep is over 25 years of age, while younger PDX intellectuals seem way more open to hiphop acts like Tyler The Creator or Lupe Fiasco.
*Don’t miss Willie Nelson. He’ll be at McMenamins at the end of July.