By Gabriel Klein
VANCOUVER – It’s only the second tour stop on the “We Might Die” tour, and already Lyricks, one-half of opening act Year of the Ox, is suffering from a lost voice. Rather than being a hindrance, this only seems to enhance the natural raspiness of his voice, nicely complementing the gritty new-school boom-bap fare being served up by him and his musical partner, JL. The two New Yorkers had just dropped their debut, YOX EP, days earlier, before heading out on tour with fellow Korean-American rapper and headliner Dumbfoundead. The L.A. Koreatown native similarly just dropped another project, expanding further on the more electronic and trap-inspired sound he has been favouring lately.
The tour has been enjoying a strong start, with all three stops in the PNW selling out. The Alexander was packed to the rafters, and fans were rewarded with a high-energy show that nicely balanced the grittier East Coast sound of the opener with the more spacy electronic sounds of the West Coast headliner. Similarly, the contrasting on-stage personalities worked well together, with the New York duo interacting with the crowd in a more classic emcee call-and-response fashion, while Dumbfoundead showed off the famous snarky jokes that made him a favourite in the battle-rap scene during the Grind Time days.
While the differences in sound and approach helped keep the night’s entertainment fresh and diverse, it was actually a quality that both acts shared that I found most intriguing. Previously the few Asian-American rappers that gained any kind of recognition in the hip hop scene either completely sidestepped the issue of their Asian identity (think Mountain Brothers not sending out pictures with their demos), or made it their main focal point (think Jin’s “Learn Chinese”). This new generation of emcees, though, is unafraid of flavouring their rhymes with references to their heritage, while not acting out a one-note caricature. The result is music that feels extremely genuine and relatable, speaking strongly to the unique Asian-American experience while maintaining broad appeal. I guarantee this won’t be their last sold-out show.Dumbfoundead, The Alexander, Year of the Ox