Aceyalone, Prince Paul and Eyedea each come from different niches in so-called underground hip-hop, but there is one common tie that binds them: None of them is as famous as he ought to be.
Your average music fan might betray a glimmer of familiarity at the mention of Prince Paul, but beyond that, these guys are about as well-known as you or me (that is unless you, reader, are famous). Deep down, you know each one of them must sometimes wonder how different things would be if he hadn’t have taken the road less traveled—if instead of using his talent and intelligence for powers of good, he instead focused on cranking out tasteless, highly saleable paper doll jiggyisms.
That’s why their apparent satisfaction with the level of fame they’ve thus far achieved is all the more admirable. There they were, performing in a small, smoky room for the ticket price of 15 bucks, and none of them betrayed a drop of contempt for the small audience or disdain for the modest setting. God bless ‘em.
Although the most recognizable name in the national was Prince Paul, the biggest pleasure of the night by far was opener Eyedea. With a plethora of battle rap victories under his belt (including the highly publicized HBO-aired Blaze Battle of 2000), Eyedea seems proverbially poised to break into the big time. The question is, will the masses actually have the patience and hip-hop shrewdness to appreciate his sprawling skills?
After seeing him live, one comes to the conclusion that they probably won’t. Eyedea could be glibly summed up as Eminem with a B.A. in Philosophy, but even that would be wrong. Eyedea is leagues more compelling and, dare I say, more phonetically gifted, than the Shady One. While he does share Eminem’s un-uh-no-he-didn’t talent for turning incongruous phrases into gripping poetry, the content of Eyedea’s rhymes leaves you questioning the nature of life rather than the rapper’s humanity.
Questions, in fact, are what Eyedea is all about. For the audience, watching him quiver as he makes personal, existential inquiries at break-neck speed starts to feel uncomfortably like a perverse sort of voyeurism—like you’re witnessing a paranoid schizophrenic wig out about the “reality” of reality right before your eyes. But most dazzling of all is Eyedea’s ability to go from enigmatic head case to charming crowd pleaser in a matter of seconds. Eyedea has stated in interviews that he craves stardom, but breaking down his skills for mass consumption is probably too much to ask of anyone—even the biggest bottom-feeding b-boy of all, Puff Daddy. If the rumors are true, we may eventually find out.
Although he wasn’t headlining, Prince Paul was unquestionably the main attraction for the majority of the crowd. As a producer, Paul boasts an oeuvre that spans back beyond fifteen years, when he first entered the game with Stetsasonic. Since then, he has routinely broken ground, most famously as the producer of De La Soul’s early work. Despite his sterling credentials and undeniable integrity, Paul lacks the element most vital to a compelling live show: rhyming skills. Paul doesn’t emcee. It’s not his thing.
Anybody familiar with Prince Paul’s work knows of his affinity for skits. He practically invented them for De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising, and they invariably pop up on anything he has touched since. Although they’re frequently clever, they get old almost immediately. Of course, on a CD, you can skip right over them. But that wasn’t an option during Paul’s live performance, which consisted largely of Paul waxing skit-like to the audience, then stepping behind the decks to embark on an initially entertaining, but in the end drearily protracted, trip through the history of hip hop.
Next came Aceyalone. Well, not right away, exactly. It seems that Aceyalone had gone missing during Prince Paul’s set. His DJ and accompanying emcees, who had taken the stage early, clearly expecting him to show up, were nonplussed. They exchanged worried glances in between invocations to the audience to be patient.
It was already 12:30 AM, and the largely toxified crowd was showing signs of potentially calamitous restlessness. Finally, a panting Aceyalone entered from an outdoor exit near the stage, his hands covering his head in faux embarrassment. He climbed up, grabbed his mic, and gazed out at the audience with inert, bloodshot eyes.
“I’m gonna be honest with y’all. Someone bought me seven shots of Crown tonight.”
Yeah, it’s kind of funny, but mostly it’s just a shame. To me, Aceyalone is one of hip-hop’s greatest talents. He possesses a rare combination of vocal agility, narrative skill, and raw intelligence. His album Book of Human Language stands alone as one of the most thematically ambitious and poetically breathtaking albums to come out of hip-hop—ever. To watch him perform with a severe whisky buzz was a profound disappointment to me. It was like going to see my favorite basketball team, only to find that my favorite player had been suspended for showing up late to practice. In short, a gyp.
Still, I stuck around, and got pretty much what I expected—ragged and uninspired performances of otherwise great songs like “Makeba”, “Annalillia”, “Five Feet”, and “B-boy Real McCoy”. Here’s to hoping that, in the unlikely event that Aceyalone ever comes to Indianapolis again, he can stick to just beer until after the show.