CANNIBAL OX with IDEA & ABILITIES and MR. LIF at Lee's Palace, September 11. Tickets: $20. Attendance: 250. Rating: NNN
whether it was hiphop stoicismor just insensitivity, New York label Def Jux's underground rap caravan refused to pull the plug at Lee's Palace Tuesday.While Lower Manhattan burned and virtually every other entertainer on the planet shut down as a sign of respect, these DJs slung together classic Jeru and Group Home singles like nothing had happened. With CNN blaring from behind the bar and heads nodding to the thump, it was a strange scene.
Motormouth MC Idea from the Rhymesayers crew initially refused to get caught up in the affairs of the day, instead rhyming triple-time over DJ Abilities' lurching beats before the crowd started braying for a freestyle.
After some prodding, the diminutive rhymer sent the reserved crowd into fits with a searing off-the-cuff stream about terrorism in your front room.
With the room still buzzing and Aesop Rock a no-show, Def Jux icon Mr. Lif hit the stage and switched the focus from international affairs to the state of hiphop at home. The tightly-wound MC was equal parts cheesy showman -- "Wave your hands in the air" -- and underground champion -- "How many of y'all are into something different?"
The mix was unorthodox, but it worked. The ponderous, hype-free set that often accompanies heady lyricists was replaced by fierce crowd manipulation and rhymes that stayed in your head long after the beat faded.
Compared with Lif's demolition approach, the slowed-down psychedelic stomp of headliners Cannibal Ox didn't stand a chance. Immensely heavy and with a beat that kept shifting every few bars, the double-barrelled barrage of Vast and Vordul Combine was impressive but packed none of the punch that the one-man Lif show managed.
Maybe they just weren't up for it. The real question was, given the circumstances, why even bother trying?