Local music takes a stand at Boston Answering, a one-night hip hop-centric artist showcase for Boston residents and a shot across the bow at Boston Calling.

5/25/19 – The Strand Theatre

When you walk into the lobby of historic Strand Theater in Dorchester, you can almost hear stories emanating from the gold leaf paint-trimmed walls. The gravitas of the theater is palpable, with portraits of cultural icons like KRS-One hanging next to Alfred Hitchcock. People were speaking softly, as if they were trying to hear the place tell its history. Hipstory is trying to give hip hop its rightful place in Boston music culture and make history in The Strand Theater.

“Boston Calling… isn’t for actual Boston people,” Boston Answering headliner, co-creator, and Hipstory founder Cliff Notez told The Boston Globe. He went on to say, “its location at Harvard Athletic Complex can be difficult to get to from Dorchester and Roxbury and is even harder to get back to these tougher neighborhoods late at night.” Cliff also told WBUR that Boston Calling largely ignores the hip hop genre and makes very little effort to include local talent, which Cliff said is a part of a larger, decades-long trend of “hip hop artists not being included in countless spaces in the city.” That night, Cliff Notez and Hipstory productions brought five local music acts to the stage for a cultural response to Boston Calling titled “Boston Answering.”

Photo courtesy of @serenasawthat

Most Likely to Achieve Nirvana: VQnC

VQnC, Somerville-based singer and Stevie Nicks incarnate, started off her set with a solo self-care exercise to her song “Golden Days.” As she looped her vocals with a foot pedal, she created a haunting but beautiful sound. She called it a meditation, but it was more than that; she knew how to focus the audience and bring them somewhere peaceful. 

Later supported by a full band, including a standout violin player rocking a black bodysuit and a saxophone player in a chocolate brown jacket, VQNC showed off her rockstar potential with full throated vocals and a funky strut to her recent single, “Heart” ft. Oompa off of her latest album, Freedom.

Photo courtesy of @serenasawthat

Best Old-School DJ: Forte

Using hard hitting, head-nodding beats that cracked and thumped, Somerville-based rapper Forte played songs like, “Summer Gone” ft. Olivia Doh off of his 2018 mixtape, The Mischtape. The song had a warm feel and showed off his singing chops that were as relaxing as a mellow summer afternoon. Forte spit bars over his DJ, Styx, in gold headphones and dark reflective mirror shades. Styx is a true classic DJ, actually scratching on vinyl, a method of DJing which is rarely used in live hip hop anymore given the convenience of fully electronic controllers and laptop setups. This detail made both Forte and DJ Styx stand out as hip hop purists who put their culture on their backs and pay homage to hip hop’s humble beginnings. Die hard hip hop fans live for that kind of stuff.

Photo courtesy of @serenasawthat

Oldest Soul: Photocomfort

Coming off of coveted tour slots with festival giants like Beirut, Glass Animals and St. Lucia, Boston-based songwriter, producer, and performer Photcomfort sang with an awareness and depth of someone much older. Wearing a dress that looked like a full-body white wedding veil, “expansive pop” singer Justine Bowe sung huge vocal hooks with passion and remorse over smooth, low key electro-pop beats. She displayed her highly accomplished musicianship as she firmly played the keyboard with precision and purpose during the song, “Rose Colored Glasses” off her 2018 EP, Understudy. She also showed her versatility as a performer when she stepped away from her keyboard and moved around the space, singing her featherlight hymns to an entranced audience. In preparation for the event, she said on Facebook: “I truly cannot wait to get on stage this Saturday with best buds and finally answer the goddamn phone when it’s Boston calling.” Toward the end of her performance, she followed up on that statement with a gracious call to the audience, “Thank you Boston. This night feels like it’s been a long time coming.”

 

Photo courtesy of @serenasawthat

Most Rap Battle Wins by Technical Knock-Out: Red Shaydez

“Stand up, it’s Red Shaydez, bitch!” Dorchester-based rapper, Red Shaydez was amped when she took the stage to dole out machine-gun speed raps. She played the song “Catch a Vibe” with a super young DJ who could definitely hold her own in the room. Red’s rap style is impressive in terms of rhyming creativity, speed, and precision. During her set, she ended each line with highly punctuated verbal knock-out blows. Her closer was a five-minute a capella rap, to which the audience was hanging on every word with baited breath. Offering words of support to the artists in the room she said: “Your time will come when it’s your time… you have to trust me… I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I feel like it’s finally now just starting to happen.”

 

Photo courtesy of @Serenasawthat

Most Likely to be Recognized on a Dollar Bill: Cliff Notez

Jumping out from behind the curtain in red plaid pants that fell well above his ankles, show headliner and winner of the 2018 Boston Music award for Best New Artist Cliff Notez came out to roaring applause. He was supported by what he called “The Church of Cliff Notez”—a six-piece band including backup singers and saxophonists. He bounced around the stage in constant motion, his yellow dreadlocks accentuating his high knee jumps. With professional-level stage confidence that came with his relaxed flows, Cliff has star power. In a call and response bit demonstrating his local pride with the audience he called, “Are we at The Strand Theater in Dorchester? The audience responded with, “Yeah!” 

In a moment of raw honesty, Cliff played “Lights Out” ft. Oompa, which tells of a mental breakdown, detailing a spiraling, gut-wrenching list of self-conscious thoughts that boil over at the very end of the song. Hearing this train of thought on the recorded track is powerful and heartbreaking, but seeing it live along with Cliff’s bereft facial expressions can leave a concert-goer in mourning. Halfway through his set, Cliff displayed his mastery of creative and artistic promotion. “I’m done giving a f*#k. I’m going to just give my f*#ks away” he proclaimed, as he sprayed the audience with a prop gun that showered dollar bills into the theater. Each “dollar bill” was actually made up of his art with creative sketches, proclaiming the amount to be “one whole f*#k.”

All of the artists that got on stage that night truly appreciated the opportunity. The lineup included genres beyond just hip hop, showing the breadth and talent within the local music scene on which Boston Calling missed out. As Cliff told The Globe, “There’s a whole music and arts scene that is thriving and growing. There’s a massive hip-hop scene that is on the verge of making serious waves in the music industry as a whole… The only way to make that something that lasts… is if we are all embedded and are committed to the community of what Boston is.”

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