Maybe it helps to certify a venue's "hipster" cred to make their venue nigh impossible to find, but for everyone who wants the simple act of finding a concert to not be a missing scene from some early 1990s click-and-point adventure game, the Cameo Gallery has some work to do on advertising their location. Had the show not been so surprisingly entertaining (and at times downright shocking), the monumental task that was simply finding the Cameo Gallery might have been a deal-breaker. Still, despite the frustrations of walking up and down N. 6th Street in Williamsburg for thirty minutes before discovering that Cameo Gallery was at the back of a cafe with zero signs outside alluding to this fact, our night at this particular set was an enlightening of hip-hop, R&B, and funk that is sure to inspire passionate debates about sexuality and gender identity in the world of modern hip-hop for anyone that was in the audience.
The first opening act was Brooklyn hip-hop duo Zebra Baby
. Fronted by two women, one white and one black, Zebra Baby married old school and (disconcertingly) West Coast production styles and beats with hardcore and vicious sexual lyricism. When men utter lines like "murder that p***y," it would be considered misogyny and women's rights groups would be up in arms. When it's two ultra-masculine lesbians rapping about their sexual conquests, is it still demeaning to women? Their mic skills were impressive and Ali Ramos is the most impressive white female rapper I've ever seen (not that I can honestly name any others). There was an energy and contagious fire to the pure shock value of the performance, and their proudly homosexual rapping seems like the perfect counterpoint to the vitriolic homophobia spewing from the Oddfuture crew. Still, the the sheer objectification and at times violence their lyrics displayed to other women could inspire think-pieces for ages about hip-hop gender paradigms.
The final opener was another Brooklyn act, Cookies
. Categorizing their sound is difficult because they don't easily fall into any pre-established niche and they brought a refreshingly distinct and unique sound to the stage. The only helpful analogy we can come up with is what would happen if you took the funky synthesizers of Talking Heads, the soul/hip-hop/rock fusion of Dismemberment Plan, and then a female vocalist who sounds like what Lana Del Rey would be if Lana Del Rey weren't terrible. The band could probably work on their stage presence a little bit, but we want to hear more because in a music landscape currently dominated by slickpop and New Wave revival acts, their clear grasp of their singular sound for their music was a breath of fresh air. Cookies sounds like Cookies and no one else, and if you're looking for the next possible "sound," they might have it.
New Subpop Records
signed act THEESatisfaction
brought the night to a suitably stunning close. Rising to prominence with their part on "Swerve" from last year's contender for Best Hip-Hop Album, Black Up
, from reclusive Seattle rappers Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction were quickly scooped up by Subpop and will be releasing their debut full-length awE NaturalE
on 3/27. If their performance at Cameo Gallery was any indication, awE NaturalE
has the potential to be one of the most impressive hip-hop debuts in ages.
We're sorry Nicki Minaj. We're sorry Lil Kim. Heck, we're even sorry Azealia Banks (though you at least come close). Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White are maybe the two most ambitious, experimental, and talented women working in hip-hop today. Combining the jazz influences of A Tribe Called Quest, psychedelic funk straight out of Parliament, and the avant-garde nature of their Subpop label-mates Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction manages to sound like hip-hop from another world with sci-fi undertones, feminist empowering imagery, and astonishingly sonic productions, they are a force of pure energy and while it took them about half the set to finally seem like they were happy to be on the stage, these Seattle gals brought a joie de vivre
to their performance when it finally dawned on them how much the crowd was digging their act. Even their hilariously awkward dancing choreography was so endearing that you couldn't help but cheer it on with a goofy grin on your face even though it was painfully obvious they weren't meant to be dancing.
In such an unfortunately male-dominated genre, where misogyny is seemingly the rule of law and the most popular female act is the fake plastic Barbie doll Nicki Minaj, THEESatisfaction are two powerful women making supremely ambitious genre-fusing hip-hop. We can't foresee whether their sound will catch on with mainstream audiences, but if you're looking for something fresh in the crowded and stale rap market, you need look no further than THEESatisfactions.