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Two for One Sale

By Al Shipley | Posted 4/2/2008

As many local hip-hop artists drop new albums and mixtapes on a near-weekly basis, you'd think more of them would synergistically pool their promotional resources together. At least two MCs, E Major and Ab Rock, teamed up for a joint release party April 2, ushering in their sophomore albums at Fletcher's. The two frequent collaborators clearly assembled the show's format together, each rapper taking turns with two half-hour sets and occasionally guesting on each other's songs, for a nearly seamless revue-style show. With minimal downtime, it lasted more than two hours. They may not be the first local acts to think of a double release party, but it's hard to picture anyone else executing the concept quite so well.

Both E Major and Ab Rock ordinarily perform the old-fashioned way, with just a mic, a backing track, and maybe a hypeman. But for this occasion, they pulled together a big, teeming mass of more than a dozen musicians and vocalists to accompany them. And though a few individuals, and most of the same instruments, remained onstage throughout the night, each rapper had a different core of backing musicians and a distinct live-band sound that treated their respective material differently.

E Major, formerly Eyekon, had the larger, splashier band of the two headliners. With two backup singers, a rhythm section, scratches by DJ Impulse, and his own brother, singer/songwriter Doug Mattingly, on guitar, there was so much going on that the cluttered mix sometimes obscured E Major's words. And given the warm, subdued production that dominates his new album, Majority Rules, available both on CD and as a free download, it was disappointing to hear those songs given a somewhat ill-fitting, and at times generic, live funk sound. Still, his energy often equalled the band, which held together surprisingly well, even when there were a full 11 people onstage at once during a guest turn by R&B singer JSoul.

Both MCs differentiated between their sets with a change of clothes, but while Ab Rock's costume change was minor, E Major's was, well, major. Performing his first set in the informal 1980s hip-hop attire of a T-shirt and a dookie rope chain, E Major later classed it up with a button-up shirt and some expensive-looking glasses. Not being accustomed to a local rap show actually starting on time, we missed most of his first set. But the second set started strong, with the Majority Rules standout "How You Wanna Carry It?", which DJ Impulse finished off with a quick spin of the Baltimore club classic that E Major interpolated for the chorus, Miss Tony's "What's Up What's Up."

Ab Rock's band was the more restrained one, with the hum of bass and keyboards dominating the sound but never getting in the way of his witty, earnest lyrics, even with beatboxer Chuck the Madd-Ox adding occasional verbal percussion. Having just picked up his new album, The Mid Midlife Crisis, at the show, we haven't heard enough of the original tracks to compare to the live performances, but the subtle approach Ab Rock and his band took on Wednesday did the songs justice. And after the show, we ran into one of the album's producers, Ms. Tris Beats, who'd just heard the live-band take on one of her tracks, the single "Who (Do You Think You Are)," for the first time, and she, at least, seemed very happy with what they'd done with it.

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Tags: Hip Hop, e major, ab rock

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