Black Milk | J. Pinder | A.Dd+ The Gramophone March 11, 2012
One of the Motor City's finest underground emcees, Black Milk, made a stop in the Grove last night, bringing with him an impressive lineup of hip-hop acts from across the country for his Claps and Slaps tour. Unfortunately, hardly anybody was there to see it.
Granted, it's not easy to pack a show on Sunday night in a working-class town like St. Louis, but a turnout of less than fifty people was a disappointment by any measure. The performers certainly noticed the small crowd size; some commented, some joked about it - but it didn't deter them from putting on a hell of a show.
Billed to start at 9:00 p.m., the sound check was deceptively punctual as Black Milk's DJ and three-piece band warmed up around that time. Perhaps waiting for more people to show, it was nearly 11 p.m. by the time the first act took the stage. Opening duties were handled respectably by Dallas natives A.Dd+, who will be breaking from the tour to play SXSW this week. The duo had an almost Outkast-like dynamic, with influences from other Texas-based acts like UGK and DJ Screw. A.Dd+ seemed to feel at home on smoking/drinking songs like "Shit Got Crazy" and "Can't Come Down," but they didn't leave the impression that they were strictly a "weed rap" group.
Local favorite Tef Poe took the next set with an assist from Vandalyzm, since his normal support, Rockwell Knuckles, has relocated to New York. Tef performed some of his newer material off the upcoming War Machine 2, which sounds as sharp as ever. From the more aggressive "Coming Outta Missouri", to the darker "K.N.G.M.F.B." to his verse on Indiana Rome's beautifully-produced track "So Cold 2," Poebama certainly looks to be on top of his game right now.
Tef was followed by a short solo set from Vandalyzm. Van mostly stuck to performing single verses from his previous work, with a couple of new tracks ("Song for Your Girl" and "Ozymandias") thrown in for good measure. Van's combination of style, substance and humor landed with the crowd. He closed his set by thanking "all nine people that came out."
Seattle's J. Pinder (also scheduled to play SXSW) brought a calm and mature energy to the stage, with soulful production and positive lyrics in the same vein as a Talib Kweli. His set didn't last long, but based on the strength of tracks like "Never No," this is an artist worth keeping an eye on.
It was around 12:35 a.m. when Black Milk and his band (named Nat Turner) finally got started. Black Milk made the most of the live instrumentation he brought with him, giving plenty of solo time to the bassist, drummer and keyboardist. His setlist featured a good mix of his different production styles; vintage-sounding sample-based beats on songs like "Losing Out," the modern hip-hop synths found on "Welcome (Gotta Go)," and live-band tracks like "Give the Drummer Some" and "Black and Brown" were all in rotation.
Black Milk proved to be just as capable with a microphone in his hands as he is with a drum machine. An impeccably-timed delivery, slick wordplay and an infectious presence onstage highlighted his performance. "This might be the lightest crowd, but it's the best sound and best energy we've had on the tour," he acknowledged about halfway through. When his set ended around 1:30, the crowds request for an encore went unanswered -- understandably so, given the circumstances.