X Clan, Medusa, Abstract Rude, Crown City Rockers

The Key Club, February 3

Like some nasty virus that’s got everyone on the defensive, the bugbear of “Hip-Hop Is Dead” loomed large over this event. Too bad, since this was a birthday party for X Clan’s main man, Brother J — and a celebration of the first Clan album in 14 years, the righteous Return From Mecca. The respected conscious-rappers’ comeback is custom-designed to prove that hip-hop — politically charged, real hip-hop — is decidedly not dead, just needs some sense shook into it.

Opening guest spots got things off to a real shaky start, though: A bunch of invited friends did short sets to varying degrees of artistic success, but stolid indifference from the masses. Then Ms. Hip-Hop Diva Supreme Medusa came out and chastised the crowd to get their rumps moving, now; plus two besuited friends joined her in some furious pop-locking that got big laffs. Abstract Rude served his rapid-fire raps over funkily off-kilter beats and suavely sick sounds by his dreadlocked turntablist. But when Oakland’s Crown City Rockers hit the stage, energy jacked up about 60 percent, which is funny, since they’re a jazzy-type groove band. (I’m just saying.)

At last, X Clan came on like conquering lions, waving flags high, and an older, savvier Brother J commenced with a finely articulated series of raps and sermons: Hip-hop and its impressionable young fans have dropped the damn ball, he speechified, but in these harsh times, a real truth-music — focused on black, brown and female empowerment — is highly relevant.

Brother J delivered raps from the sonically audacious Return From Mecca — including “Weapon X,” “Why U Doin’ That?” and “Speak the Truth” — not merely with righteous wrath, but with persuasive warmth. Brother J’s new sound is both superdefined and exhilaratingly tough; that it didn’t seem corny or dated had a lot to do with the group’s menacing DJ, Black Jack the Elephant, who laid down vicious beats like there was simply no time for bullshit. The X Clan set was like a dash of cold water in our faces and a fire under our posteriors. No, hip-hop isn’t dead, it’s just that Public Enemy isn’t around to put us wise. So here’s Brother J retaking the torch, eminently qualified to take it to the next level.

—John Payne

LA Weekly