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Surely, there hasn’t been a stranger bill in Little Rock at a rap show than the concert at the Village on Monday. Headliner DMX, whom everyone expected to act strange, didn’t disappoint, but he also didn’t even walk into the building until just before midnight.
Three-and-a-half hours earlier, local duo Familymade: Dre and Jontai made for an odd pair to open the show. For at least the last year, they’ve been cultivating a club hit with “Jump Rope,” a catchy dance song that asks listeners to “do the jump rope, double-dutch with it.” That’s pretty much the meat of the song, but infectiously sly production from Grim Muzik’s YK mitigates against the simplicity. When Dre and Jontai closed out their four-song set with an extended remix of “Jump Rope,” their towel men/back-up dancers walked down to the pit in front of the stage to demonstrate. The crowd of 50 or so went very slightly wild.
Local rapper 607 followed almost immediately. There’s no one more engagingly odd in local music. Since 2000, the 27-year-old has released a new album every three months (he just put out his 27th, “La Vida Local”). Virtually every night, once the workaday world heads to clubs and restaurants, he is out there mixing and mingling, like it’s his job, always with his CD-filled graphite briefcase in tow. He brags often that he doesn’t have a day job, that rap supports him, but in April, frustrated by what he described as a “static” local market, he flew to Russia for three weeks to “outsource” himself to what he described as a hip-hop-starved country. That trip hinted at such potential — though little financial gain — that he went back just weeks later. Now he’s gearing up for a trip to Australia and New Zealand in the coming months. But first, he said last week, he hoped to steal DMX’s crowd.
Just as he did at a Village show early this year, 607 opened the show in bondage gear — baggy black pants, no shirt, wristlets hooked to chains that draped over his neck and a bondage mask that could’ve doubled as a beekeeping protectant. By his second song, “Ryd While U Hyd,” the mask was gone and the chains were on their way off. With help from his brother and fellow rapper, Mr. Morbid, 607 quickly ran through at least half of the songs on his new album. A crowd of 40 or so gathered in the pit, most of whom seemed to know every word, even to the new material.
Midway through his set, 607 told the crowd about his recent travels, but made clear that Little Rock is home. “The real people stay here,” he said. “Ain’t nobody from L.A. They all out there chasing dreams and pyramid schemes. Some people get famous, and some people make money.” That boosterism dovetailed into his catchiest song, “Made 2 Luve Little Rock,” a track that borrows the “I was born in Little Rock/had a childhood sweetheart” line from Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Born to Love Her.”
Next, he resurrected his “paligraph,” a regular-length rap he came up with years ago that makes sense — if you can handle free association — when rhymed forwards and backwards. 607 had a poster with his lyrics printed, so those at the very front of the stage could follow along (he might be well-served to take a cue from Bob Dylan in the opening of “Bringing It All Back Home”). When he’d circled his way back to the beginning of the song, the crowd erupted, and 607 took his cue: “Can your favorite rapper do that!?”
Probably not, but your favorite rapper probably won’t have his set cut short either. Two songs later, 607 got the five-minutes notice. “What kind of clock they got?” he asked incredulously. Still, used to working on the fly, he quickly skipped forward to his closing song (even on a stage as big as the Village, 607 is always his own DJ, with a Discman onstage). Long the rapper’s tour de force, “Persiphone” borrows the music from an epic electro-rock track from Mute Math and always provokes goosebumps.
Cutting that set short left the crowd to sit restlessly for close to 45 minutes until Bizarre took the stage. Sadly, not the big dude from D-12 who was on “Celebrity Fit Club,” this Bizarre said he was from Brooklyn and sort of half-rapped, half-sang over the tepid alterna-metal of his back-up band. He had puffy eyes and kept touching his nostrils and, in a weak version of DMX’s guttural yelp, tried to get the crowd involved with, “When I say Bizarre, y’all say boo-yah.” He was horrible.
Some 30 minutes later, DMX came through the front door with his entourage, 10 or 15 deep (normal for rap standards), followed by 30 men and women wearing night-camo pants and leather vests with a large “R” emblazoned on the back. These were the Ruff Ryders motorcycle gang, who follow DMX on tour. Up close, the gang looked less like the Ruff Ryders from DMX videos of old and more like extras from “Wild Hogs.”
But when DMX took the stage after another 30 minutes or so, he hadn’t lost any of the swagger that made him the biggest rapper around in the late ’90s. On his albums, X’s shift from quiet talk-rapping to gruff barking is arresting, but there’s a sense that it’s a range summoned just for the studio. That idea was put to rest immediately at Monday. DMX was mesmerizing. He shifted his tone wildly and seemed to be pouring himself into every word. He barked and howled and mumbled incoherently. One moment he’d be doing a fiercely nihilistic song like “Where Da Hood At?” (“From dusk till dawn, nighttime belongs to the dog/On the street past midnight, look for ’em in the morgue”) and the next he’d be saying, “I am a servant of the Lord. Jesus only wants servants. If you too proud to wash somebody’s feet, He don’t want you,” which he put a period on by growling menacingly. Unless he was holding back his method acting skills in “Romeo Must Die,” he’s damn near certifiable. But the crowd, small but vibrant, hung on to every word. When the show closed, they even obliged DMX by bowing for a prayer.