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Review: Circle City Experiment

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Allen Imagery
  • Allen Imagery

When 2012 rolls around, we may still be talking about the Circle City Experiment, an inspiring hip-hop festival held Saturday at the Harrison Center for the Arts. Conceived and achieved by De Gud Life, the event tapped local talent to present all five elements of hip-hop: DJ'ing, MC'ing, break dancing, graffitti art, and beatboxing.

A large room in the basement of the Harrison Center — its walls lined with everything from mixed-media collages to crude, colorful illustrations — provided an appropriate “underground” location for a fun, friendly gathering of hip-hop enthusiasts of all ages.

The show was hosted by the very-qualified Allen Imagery, a longtime trendsetter in the Indianapolis poetry community, who sternly but good-naturedly kept the show on track, an essential task given the more than 30 performers scheduled. Respectful of performers, Allen repeatedly requested silence from the audience and called for applause after each name was announced.

The lineup included plenty of local legends who have spent years honing their craft. But fresh, up-and-coming talents were also given the opportunity to take the stage and test their skills in front of a large, attentive audience.

Jasmine Allen, co-founder of De Gud Life and co-coordinator of the event, explained to me afterwards why she helped to book a lineup that featured both experienced and neophyte performers, the youngest being 19 years old and the eldest just over 30: “Indianapolis has a lot of talent in the hip hop scene from ages 17 and up, and we wanted to show that…We just wanted everyone to connect and become more aware of each other. It is easy to notice other artists that are doing the same thing you are doing, but you have to give them recognition, because our music scene is up and coming as far as national recognition goes.”

The room’s energy remained high throughout a long evening of performances. Beat boxing gave way to DJing, then dancing and ciphering (freestyle rapping in a group setting), with a new act taking the stage every 15 minutes. My favorite performance of the evening came from Tiara Thomas, Flaco and YE Al, three independent MCs who collaborated for the first time at the Experiment.

Each member of the trio is a solo artist of note. Thomas, a Ball State student, sings, plays guitar and raps in the style of hip-hop princess Nicki Minaj, performing a repertoire that includes acoustic covers of mainstream rap songs as well as her own original songs and astonishing freestyle raps. Her work has been featured on More About Nothing, a mixtape by Washington, D.C. rapper Wale.

Ryan Short, who goes by the stage name Flaco, also attends Ball State, where he released his debut mixtape, The BORED.SOLDIER!, in October 2010. Stylistically of the Young Money school, Flaco emulates Lil’ Wayne’s nasal tone and innovative song structure.

YE Ali attends IU-Bloomington, where he enjoys the attentions of more than 3,000 Twitter followers who track his musical career and delight in his regular, hilarious tweets.


After all scheduled performances were complete, the Experiment concluded with an epic freestyle showcase starring the evening’s cast of MCs and beat boxers. A pair of microphones circulated around the stage beat boxer provided rhythms and MCs freestyle rapped for a final eight bars. Fitting for a celebration of local talent, Alpha.live had the last word with an emotional recital of his homage to our state, “Indiana”.

And the whole shebang was for a good cause, albeit one likely unfamiliar to most attendees. Proceeds from The Circle City Experiment will benefit Mangyan, Inc., a non-profit agency based in the Philippines and devoted to the Magyans, an indigenous group based on the country’s Mindoro Island. Lugao Kasberg, co-founder of De Gud Life and a coordinator of the event, worked over the summer with the organization, which aims to teach Magans modern farming techniques and leadership skills.

What's next for De Gud Life? "We don't like to talk too much about our projects," Jasmine told me when I inquired about what other great things we can expect in 2011. She continued, "Instead we love to surprise people. To that end, we are entering a short video contest for the Madame Walker Theatre."

We'll be waiting.

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