Saturday, September 12, 2009

GUSU #5: Berlining for a Living

It’s been said before on the road and I’ll say it again: “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” is a lifestyle. After smashing the set at Chapeau Rouge and rocking the dance party till early morn, I had about 2 hours to get my things packed, vacate DaSka headquarters, say peace to Kuzhell and Locita, and get to Prague Holsovice to meet the fellas for an 8:40am train. We were heading back to Berlin for the last run of shows, beginning almost immediately upon arrival with an afternoon outdoor jam on the Alexanderplatz. I felt surprisingly good in the voice, considering we played a mosh-pit status show the previous night.

Berlin has emerged as the European epicenter of positive Hip Hop music, progressive culture, community and social justice through the arts and elements. Not just in our eyes, but really in the context of the EU at large. There is a significant Old School history dating back to 1980 (if not earlier), a True School aesthetic that drives youth development, arts education and freedom of expression, and a New School generation that possesses cutting edge skills. Farbeon deserves all the credit for plugging us into this scene. He has put in serious work, both this past February and the early part of the summer tour, not to mention building meaningful online relationships. It felt like family immediately upon meeting heads. I had actually gotten familiar with some of the big dogs (and dog-esses) when I was in Berlin before Kemp, but this time around was more extended, in depth and performance-based.

HG and I slid back to “Hotel Mary-land” to drop our bags and freshen up before the jam. I understand the benefit of hospitality as much as anyone (especially when it comes to international rap travelers) and Maria Kapix held us down way beyond good old-fashioned crashing. Some peoples’ generosity is really humbling; I’m glad I’ve put some good hosting karma out into the world, cause it came back in spades in Berlin.

We didn’t really know what to expect upon rolling up to the Alexanderplatz for the show. It was the warm-up party for the big EOW benefit the next day, was being held down by the EOW Berlin crew and was supposed to be a “live mixtap” cypher style event. What we discovered was a classic outdoor Hip Hop bash in the middle of one of Berlin’s most historic sites: two turntables and a PA getting power from a generator, a grip of MCs, DJs, and a lovely mid-day crowd. DJs Bulet and IGadget took turns holding down the decks as the host, Furious (current EOW Berlin Champ) kept it moving with a variety of acts and some incredible freestyles. You know it’s a bonkers rhyme when you don’t understand 80% of what an MC is saying but the flow is so ill that you’re enraptured. It was hours of that, between Furious, Amewu, S-Rock, Rino MC…

This event was actually a collab between EOW and Gangway Beatz, a Hip Hop Youth Development organization run by this cat named Olad. We got to build with Olad for a minute while some of the young folks from Gangway Beatz rocked the mic. This man has a firm grasp on Hip Hop activism and is a real global visionary; in fact, he’s bringing a group of young Berliners to NYC this fall and we’re working on connecting them to some of the folks we work with here.

Having the kids rock the mic at Alexanderplatz was a really beautiful aspect to the event, and tempered the almost incessant and extremely hilarious stream of drunk dancing old men. All in all, it was enough inspiration, comedy and skilling to keep the endurance coals stoked. 3P rocked a couple of joints and a bunch of freestyles as the rain held off and the crowd stayed with it. There’s some great video of this day floating around Facebook.

From the jumpoff we went to catch some dinner and rehearse for Saturday with DJ Bulet, who was going to hold us down at Cassiopeia. Bulet lives (and grew up) in the Kreizburg section of Berlin, a predominantly Turkish neighborhood with lots of flavor and underground energy. He’s a husband, papa of 2 and has been DJing for over 30 years. The man is a living library of German Hip Hop history, and has been in the mix for most of it. His understanding of the power of this culture is inspiring, as are the incredible beats that he produces. We had a mellow night of building and chilling in preparation for the final 3rd Party show of the tour.

Saturday rolled around and we took it easy, to say the least. Maria took HG and I to a dope Thai spot in Mitte, and we leisurely made our way to Cassiopeia for the soundcheck. 3rd Party was rocking the bill with Smith & Smart (an upbeat electro-Hip Hop duo that incorporates V-drums and turntablism), 4XSample and the Berlinutz (two local crews, the former a beatbox group and the latter 3 MCs and a DJ who rocked a mash-up set of the two in combination) and special guests Qwazar and John Robinson. IGadget, Fresh Fluke and a couple other DJs were rocking upstairs as the live acts were on the main stage downstairs. It was a packed packed house and everyone brought the thunder. Smith & Smart were extremely dope and fun, moving back and forth from the front of the stage to the instruments at the back and turning the party out. My man Mando from 4Xample might be my favorite beatboxer in the world right now (2009 German champ). The combo of 3 beatboxers and 3 MCs with a DJ was sick. They balanced it all out smoothly and put on a skills clinic with a nice dose of theatrics.

John Robinson and Qwazaar dropped guest solo sets before we hit the stage. It was great to build with some American MCs with a work ethic bigger than their expansive reputations, hearts in the right place and years of experience. Really disparate styles, but both outstanding performers and mic controllers. Once we hit the stage we were ready to take the energy through the roof. We literally left it all out on the stage. I even took a shot to the back of the head from a hanging speaker when HG and I were stage jumping. The set ended with a massive freestyle session featuring a bunch of EOW MCs and us. But that was hardly the end of the night…

I’d heard that Berlin parties till forever, and got to experience it on Saturday night. IGagdet and Fresh Fluke had the upstairs jumping till 8:00am! It was surreal and slightly emotional getting outside to a cloudless Sunday morning feeling the end of the tour on the horizon and getting hit by instant nostalgia. And the knowledge that we had a studio session at 5pm that evening☺

So Far and I caught some Z’s, woke up late afternoon and rolled over to Feuwasche, which is part youth community center and part recording studio. EOW MCs throw an open mic called “Cypher Camp” every Friday there. Bulet had put the call out to Berlin MCs to come through for a recording session and they rolled up en masse: Diamond Dog (who brought to BBQ to us!), S-Rock, Rino, BadKat… in fact, more rappers than names I knew. In the studio, iGadget was running through potential beats and we settled on an uptempo breakbeat joint. While walking around outside, I noticed some graffiti that read “Aste Blat” in the shape of a tree. When I asked for a translation, someone told me “leaves and branches,” which then became the topic for the song, appropriately enough recorded in a community center studio. Peep the fire:

When the session and BBQing wound down, it was time to bid farewell to my 3rd Party comrades, who were heading back to NYC the next day. I had two more days to kick it in Berlin and relax, record, rhyme and DJ. Monday was a consummate recovery day; Kapix and I walked the streets of Berlin, caught some live music and called it a night. Tuesday I spent all day with Bulet, writing and recording with BadKat, John Robinson, Rebel 1; got to meet Bulet’s two kids and have some ice cream☺ Then to wrap it up, we headed to Vinyl Lesson, the weekly EOW open mic, where I DJ’d and rhymed for the last time on this trip. It was a remarkable stretch run to the end and kind of a mental blur. When Wednesday finally rolled around and I began my epic journey home, I was looking forward to some reflective isolated time in transit.

And so it was: 8 hour train from Berlin to Paris, Gare du Nord to Charles DeGaulle, 7 hours in the airport, 8 hours from CDG to JFK, Airtran to the LIRR to the R train to BK. Still kind of reeling from all the travels, the weight of the tour, and the look down the road at the impending school year. Recollection and reflection comes in many forms, hopefully musical and grooving for me. But it was symbolically appropriate that while traveling from Berlin to Paris at the end of this tour, I edited the video to promote our “Skillz to Take Brazil” album coming this fall. As one voyage ends, the next begins, and the vision is always forward and expansive…

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