By Brent Ables | 18 March 2013
7:47 PM: I am sitting in the backseat of an economy car driven by a man named Kim. Noah is in the seat in front of me. He is chewing gum loudly; it overpowers the sounds of the car and the silence blaring out of my mind where words should be. We’re on our way to Toronto, where Noah is to be playing his first concert in nearly two years—a “coming out of retirement” party for a thirty-five-year-old man who lost more money than he ever made from rapping. I hear something from the front about the show being a benefit for Russian anti-fascist activists, but I am certain I heard this wrong. Eventually Noah breaks out a music player that is about the size of a cue ball and has an en-ovaled eight to complete the image. The sound is piercing, in a bad way. We listen to a mix of Lil B, Sixto Rodriguez, and Shady Blaze; Noah tells me he has recently recorded a new track with Shady—or had been planning to, that is, until Shady’s newborn son got fatally sick.
I can think of nothing to say to this.
8:50 PM: We’re sitting in a bar called the Central, eating french fries that are literally dripping grease. They, and our first round of drinks, have been provided by a guy whose name I think is Mo, although his height, muscle build, and apparent prison tats dissuade me from making sure of this. He is from French Guinea, which I hear wrong and swear is not a country. Presumably this doesn’t make me look any better than I already look, which is out of place.
We are joined soon thereafter by one of the opening MCs. His name, in a subtle Lynchian twist, is also Noah. He seems to be of southeast Asian descent—the sparkling fez adds to this impression—but I can not be sure. He says things like “bruh bruh,” and some other conspicuously unpolite things about Guelph’s music scene and so-called grandpa rappers. His “DJ” (see below) is a pale redhead who looks like he’d be more at home manning the boards for Mastodon, but I have come to accept this kind of thing as a reality about Canadian hip-hop. This second Noah goes by the name the Mighty Rhino, which really isn’t bad as MC names go. Apparently he had recently been contacted by someone looking to work with the other Noah, because the rap scene is southwestern Ontario really is that small.
I don’t pay much attention to the Mighty Rhino. I spend most of my time transfixed by the stage, which—with its red on black curtains and light effects—is right out of Twin Peaks.
11:13 PM: After an interminable waiting period wherein I drink too many beers and fail miserably at hitting on the only unaccompanied woman in sight, the show finally begins. We have been listening to a pretty decent DJ set highlighted by some choice Cannibal Ox cuts, but none of the main acts use the turntables. Both Noahs, instead, will simply plug in their iPods and rap over those. This is why the Mighty Rhino’s “DJ” needs quotes around his name; he does about twenty-five minutes of nothing. Noah23, later, won’t even go that far. (And really, why bother?)
The Rhino’s set is slightly better than I expected it to be. He has verve and a breadth to his attack. But he oversells his schtick and underthinks his strategy, relying heavily on call-and-response even after it’s eminently clear that none of the roughly thirteen people in the crowd care enough to actually respond. Still, he’s better than the next act. That would be the Crucos Project, composed of two dudes from Cuba and Columbia. One of them sings and kinda raps, the other plays a nylon-string acoustic guitar. I consider wondering about the international connections between Russian anti-fascist activism and these guys, but decide it probably isn’t worth the thought.
They are astonishingly boring.
12:30 AM: Noah23 takes the stage with little fanfare. He has been heard to say more than once this night that he is up well past his normal bedtime, and he looks the part. I am drunk, which mostly means that I am just a bit more tired and headache-y than I always am. But I get up, like everyone else who is left, and I put what little energy I drag around these days into the show.
Noah’s set is made up entirely of songs from his last two or three years of recording. The explanation for this is either that “That [older material] isn’t who I am anymore,” or that he doesn’t remember old lyrics, or (most likely) both. Being best acquainted with his early work, I don’t know all of the songs he performs, but it really doesn’t matter. And the reason it doesn’t is that Noah23 is on fucking fire all of a sudden. Whereas recent LP Wingfoot (2012) found the once-hyperactive MC slowing down the pace and the flow, his work on this sparsely attended night is all double- and triple-timed fury. One track from Fry Cook on Venus (2011) finds him jumping on the bench beside the wall and unleashing a blistering torrent of syllables that, for a few seconds, actually stops me from breathing. And then he does a remix of that track which is even faster.
Noah describes this kind of rapping as “high-wire shit,” and I can’t put it any better. I have not heard many that can deliver words like this, on or off record. It is all I could have hoped for from this long, generally painful, mostly interminable night, and for these minutes I am transported.
1:47 AM: I am sitting in Kim’s back seat, waiting out the long drive back to Guelph. Noah is lamenting the fact that he has to wake up and go to work in the morning. Noah works as a dishwasher at a restaurant called the Deli Street Bistro, which is in a hospital in Guelph. I, on the other hand, have class and an appointment with a counselor in the morning, both of which I will end up missing. At this minute, I am wondering whether Shady Blaze and Noah will ever complete that track together. It’s something to look forward to, anyway; sometimes that’s the best you’re going to get.