This past week I was fortunate enough to attend a show at Mac’s Bar in Lansing, Michigan with fellow Bonus Cut writer Justin Cook. The show featured Lansing area artists D Fraze, L Soul, and James Gardin (F.K.A. P.H.I.L.T.H.Y). The headliner was a duo from Indiana known as The Pro Letarians whose music features many different samples from famous artists such as James Brown and The Beatles. As we walked in, L Soul was killing it on the mic. He was very impressive and his rhymes were audible and cut through to the crowd. It will be exciting to see his abilities as an MC and on-stage persona improve.
Following L Soul was James Gardin, member of the Detroit/Lansing hip-hop collective known as BLAT! Pack. This was a big show for James as it was his last official show going by his MC name P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. I was struck by the significance of this as so much of an MC’s identity is wrapped up in his/her name. Throughout his set, I was impressed with James’ presence and message as an MC. Off the stage he is an approachable down to earth person, and while on stage, his easy going fun loving personality is even more apparent. Within the first five minutes of his performance, I was drawn in by the overall positivity embedded within his music.
Early on in the performance he asked the crowd if they had dreams and/or goals they were striving to achieve. From there he did his song “Wake Up Sleepyhead,” that urges people not to “sleep” on themselves and to be confident in their skills, passions and goals. This is such an important concept to rap about in the face of all the poverty, injustice and prejudice in the United States but also around the world. Later in the show he had the crowd reach as high as they could. Most of the crowd played along, raising their arms to the ceiling. As we put our arms down, he had us put our arms up a second time. We all reached substantially higher, really stretching out. James pointed out that nobody had actually reached as high as they could the first time. He related this scenario to our lives and proposed that we should always strive to push ourselves and be the best we can be.
In the United States there is news of hardship and struggle everyday. There are a great number of people in this country that legitimately struggle to make ends meet and must fight for every penny to keep their families fed. In schools, students are continually pushed into what education experts call the “Achievement Gap” as the structure of school resembles that of a factory. In the past year alone there have been multiple shootings, sexual assaults, suicides, house foreclosures, hate crimes and even a bombing. Beyond this, the machine that is popular culture presents an image of progress that is tremendously status quo. It gets to a point where it can feel that there is nothing good happening. This is where I believe hip-hop becomes so important. MCs are able to point out the inconsistencies within our society in such a poetic and creative way that it becomes impossible not to listen and ultimately become conscious. With James’ set, it was impossible not to feel motivated and happy to be alive. To have an MC telling me from the stage to believe in myself and follow my dreams was refreshing and as resistant to the system as it gets. With that in mind, this is so important for students to hear as there is so much agency embedded within this message.
I went to Mac’s Bar to see a hip-hop show, unsure of what to expect. I left the show feeling extremely motivated and ready to pursue my passions. This was in large part due to James Gardin’s set as he was able to communicate positivity, hope and love all the while demonstrating his natural abilities as an MC. As a resident of the Lansing area, it was exciting to see quality hip-hop happening in Lansing. If you aren’t up on James Gardin and the BLAT! Pack you really should be.
Last week, Gus Navarro and I attended a show at Mac’s Bar. He gave me the scoop a few nights before, and I was excited to see some MCs from the great state of Michigan. The concert highlighted local talent, featuring artists D Fraze, L Soul and James Gardin (P.H.I.L.T.H.Y), with a headliner hailing from Indiana, The Pro Letarians.
We arrived a little late, but were able to catch the tail end of L Soul rocking the mic in white threads; the man literally appeared to glow. His flow was crisp, clear and lethal. Not only was his stage presence other-worldly, the beats were mesmerizing. Instantly, I fell into the groove—body overtaken by the music. He was backed by a group of hype-men, adding a lighthearted feel to the whole performance. All in all, it was great way to begin the night.
Next, James Gardin, member of the Detroit/Lansing hip-hop collective known as BLAT! Pack, was scheduled to perform. During his introduction, it was stated that “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y” (James’ stage name) would be put to death. And what a beautiful death it was: James Gardin took the stage and set the mood just right. Most of the crowd stood still, scattered throughout the venue, but James drew us in and got our feet moving. He radiated love and positivity, yet remained calm and cool. A few songs in, he decided to change up his set list and perform some unexpected tunes. He called three of his friends on stage, who backed him with some soulful harmonies. This was one of my favorite moments of the show. Everyone on stage was smiling, laughing and just loving every moment of the performance—that’s what live hip-hop is all about.
The carefree attitude continued throughout James’ show. At one point, he needed two audience members for some help. It just so happened that two people had birthdays that day, so James gave them both a b-day freestyle. He started pretty strong, but soon, his verses off the dome became a silly element added to the night—James was being goofy and the crowd loved it, being goofy in return. After, I had the pleasure to talk with James, and a few other members of BLAT! Pack. They were all calm and collected beings. We spoke about hip-hop, community, life and future events. The BLAT! Pack will be part of a rap festival this weekend in Lansing (The Lansing Hip-Hop Festival), and will also perform before Ludacris at the Common Ground Music Festival, July 14.
I really enjoyed my time that night, but one thing did bother me: the lack of people. Amazing hip-hop is happening in my city, and most people do not even realize it. Local art movements are essential in reforming local culture, and we must all do our job to support them. What James Gardin and BLAT! Pack represent is a movement from within, something we all must internalize. We must bring our creativity and talents together, support one another and change the way we live every step of the way. With art and imagination, we can rebuild cities like Lansing and Detroit—we just need to help by supporting local talent.
I wish more people could have seen the death of “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y” and feel the resurrection of James Gardin. It was some real shit; and just the symbolism of shedding a persona, an extension of the ego, sends chills through my veins. Why would we want to be anyone but who we are? Why does society make us ashamed and guilty for who we were born to be? We really got to start believing, dreaming, putting faith in ourselves and the world around. Because if we can’t, what will we have left? Everyday it seems like politicians are getting crazier and crueler. When will it stop? I believe, it’s when we let go, drop our “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.”, and be who we are. This is when we are ready to embrace life and take back the power, from bottom up. We have to come together, support local arts and re-imagine our world with love.