It’s a Sunday night, The Knitting Factory, downtown Manhattan. 9/11 was four years ago. New York City is fighting to get passed the cutting down of its two middle fingers. Ground zero is still a gapping wound. In response, America has dropped cluster bombs on children, invaded Iraq under false pretense, and rolled tanks down Broadway. Taps are on everybody’s phone. Show goers at the Factory are looking to combat the worst of human behavior. They’re here to see Swamburger, Alexandrah, Tonya Combs, and DiViNCi, a group known as Solillaquists of Sound aka S.O.S. This collective was founded in Orlando, FL in 2000 when Swamburger and Beef Wellington went their separate artistic ways to do other projects. Swamburger alone has more side projects than a lot of notable independent artist. Beef was still doing the funk, but getting more into live instrumentation and song arrangement. He later would move to Los Angeles, CA, but has since then relocated back to the Ozone where him and Swam continue to collaborate.
S.O.S is on a nation wide tour with Sage Francis and Sole. Sage, viewed as crazy but on point rather you like him or not. The first time I ever heard about him was through a friend who told me an urban legend about Sage wearing an AC/DC t-shirt, fake beard, trucker hat, and sunglasses. He entered a major MC battle in Cincinnati called Scribble Jam under an alias. Dude was supposedly killing muthafuckas. When he gets to the finals he reveals his true identity at the end. The first time I saw him live he wrapped the mic chord around his neck and started spitting. He’s a slam poet from Rhode Island. From the few poems I’ve heard he’s got something unfamiliar. His music speaks for it self. Don’t hang your life “on a flag.”
Rapper Sole is Maine bred, Anticon label head (not anymore, supposedly he got tired of artists wanting to be like Andre 3000), slam poet, and self deprecating artist. He’s a soldier in his own right. Swam finally convinced me that he has something unique, and he does, but living in NYC makes it hard not to be bias. I fuckin’ love Company Flow.
At the show I make my way to the merch table. Asaan’s new new paintings and drawings pressed and sprawled out on t-shirts, CD covers, postcards and posters, dope, original, all his characters always have their eyes closed. “Yo, I’m trying to bring it nigga, can’t nobody battle that shit naw mean,” he said to me just like when he was showing off a mural he painted in Beef Wellington’s studio of two MC’s fighting over the mic. Their eyes and mouths closed, exposing their swollen lips and fat eyeballs that bulge behind tightly closed eyelids. Sometimes he gets so exited about his own shit you’d think he was talking about someone else. “What about treating yourself as a god, love your self before you try to love somebody else and expect them to love you the same,” he said as we pull into the parking lot of a Thai restaurant.
The Knitting Factory is packed. This is their second night in a row rocking; apparently last night’s show was packed too, according to Swam. Merchandise is moving. Swam is geeked, ready; invisible exclamation points laminate his every word. DiVinci strolls outside behind me, teddy bear hug. His arms propel me in the air, positive, humble and rational while stroking his pitch-black hair back attempting to mask his nervousness. The sickest producer rocking two MPC’s at the same time, scratching using the pads, punching rhythms w/ his nose, feet, forehead, elbows, whatever…. Never would’ve guessed that he’d go on to produce Lauren Hill.
In The Factory’s main space, people are shoulder to shoulder. S.O.S. is first up to bat. Swamburger introduces the band. He’s comfortable and bent on ripping it just to say, “New York ain’t shit” with a bullet proof tongue and an unrelenting demeanor: the war, protesting, blahzay blahzay activists, “activists for what?” a bold heckler shouts, challenging Swam’s unproven authority. “Who said that?” said Swam as he scans the crowd. The heckler lifts his hand in the air. The spotlight shines on him, “activist for what?” he repeated. Swamburger looks at him as if they’re two people talking on a random street corner. Dozens of times I’ve seen Swam argue with anybody who has the energy to sit there all night and battle. The dude is relentless on the mind fields, blowing heads not limbs. “Activist for life!?” he responded. Pause. The crowd slowly goes silent, point taken. The mode in the room goes from choppy water to inferno. “…over the hill…I bettin you…the first one is disavow” Swam spits his classic double triple-time meandering flow (check Beef Wellington’s Cultural Starvation Vol. 2 if you can find it).
The crowd’s language seems to be asking, “what is he saying?” Their hands in the air, robbery or salvation? “What is this cat talking about?” frozen bodies ask. Subtle grooves in hips slowly move, blondes, brunettes, baseball caps and hippies in denim dresses dance. Pockets of the crowd of mobbing. More and more I remember these kids from art school, protests, concerts, and small pot ciphers in suburbia. Bodies are bumping the stage, except two tall gentlemen wearing baseball caps. “Go the fuck to the back. You’ve been standing there not moving all night,” said Alex while bending over with one hand holding the mic to her mouth and the other pointing to the back of the room. Swam takes the initiative to spit directly at them. Their elbows knock the stage as their backs get occasionally pushed from the mosh pit behind them. Swam stands in front of them, turns his back and falls backwards off stage. He hits the hardwood floor two and a half feet below. He lays there not moving. There’s a break in the song. Swam firmly holds the mic with his arms crossed as if he’s lying down in his is B-boy stance. From the floor he opens his clinched eyes and stares up at the two tall gentlemen looking down at him. The rest of the band is rocking on stage without alarm. Alex and Tonya sing the hook. Swam’s eyes widen. Pulling the mic up to his mouth he explodes into verse without missing a beat. People lose their shit. Swam confidently picks him self up and keeps feeding the fire.
DiVinci plays the two MPC’s perched up on milk cartons, long black hair flailing, nose chicken head the pads, kick drum, dit dit dit…dum, ratatatat the high hat. DiVinci, sitting on Swam’s shoulders, plays with his bare feet, crashing his heels and vibrating legs. Alex and Tonya are rattling their fingers at DiVinci as if conjuring up spells from a witch’s stew pot. I’d never seen anything like that at a rap show.
Watch the S.O.S. origin story below.