The second annual Elevated Minds Festival was a showcase of some of the best hip-hop Utah has to offer along with a litany of golden-age rap superstars.
Before I tell you all about it, I want to say this: God bless Salt Lake’s hip-hop scene. It’s one of the least pretentious communities I’ve ever encountered. Half a dozen different people must have struck up a conversation with me at this show. Everyone seemed to be having a blast. I didn’t get one iota of attitude from anyone. So,hell yeah.
The show began with four exciting locals: Dope Thought, Burnell Washburn, Concise Kilgore and DJ Juggy. I’ve seen most of these artists before. Most notably, Concise Kilgore and DJ Juggy, when they opened for Mobb Deep earlier this year. They’re worth mentioning again. Juggy is an exceptional DJ with a soft spot for old school boom bap. As for Concise Kilgore, consider yourself on notice. He and the suddenly brilliant Dine Crew—who didn’t play this show but have a terrific new album out—are the two local artists most likely to bring Salt Lake City out of hip hop obscurity. I recommend checking them out.
As for the national acts, I can’t honestly say I gave a fuck about most of them. Ra Scion’s most notable attribute is that he’s from Seattle—I’d sooner listen to Sir Mix-A-Lot. Keith Murray had one song, albeit a classic. And lastly, Aseyalone & Myka 9 have both made some decent backpack rap, if you’re into that sort of thing. For me, there were two performances by the national acts that stood out—both left me in a state of complete disbelief, each in a different way. The first was Slick Rick.
I derive zero pleasure saying this, but the first thing I have to get out of the way is this: Slick Rick blew it, big time. It was difficult to watch one of the greatest rappers that ever lived so thoroughly phone it in. He took the stage wearing his signature eye-patch, a wife beater that revealed an unsightly beer belly, and a preposterous amount of bling around his neck. The most upsetting thing about Slick Rick in 2014, though, is that he cannot and should not rap. Watching him try broke my fucking heart. He was visibly tired. He could scarcely move. When he was able to recall his rhymes, he stumbled over them like a chair in a pitch black room. Over and over again he would fall back on a chant of, “Go Slick Rick! Go Slick Rick! Go!” Then he would hold his mic out to the crowd so that the could respond in kind.
I didn’t participate, but I certainly wanted him to go.
The absolute nadir of his performance was during an ill-advised attempt to bond with the crowd: he requested that everyone in the house say, “Lick the balls!” A few people politely obliged, but it was awkward. Sensing—correctly—that he’d lost the room, Rick apologized. “Sorry about that ladies,” he said.
I turned to a strikingly beautiful young woman standing beside me and asked her for her thoughts on what had just transpired. “I don’t think he’s really that sorry,” she joked.
I too had my doubts.
This was troublesome. If Slick Rick had completely lost his mojo, what could I expect of KRS-One? I prepared myself for the worst and pounded my beer. I looked on with trepidation as KRS-One’s DJ plugged in.
Nothing could have prepared me for what KRS-One was about to do. When he took the stage, it was obvious from the first second that he was not fucking around. He brought the house down with a superstar team of breakdancers in tow. “This is what you waited all year for!” he rapped. The crowd went ballistic.
I cannot describe in mere words how awesome KRS-One was, but I’ll try. What I can tell you is this: there is no doubt in my mind that this man loves hip-hop more than anyone who has ever lived. He had a stage presence unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. He was mighty. His voice was even more powerful than it was back in his Boogie Down Production days—it sounded like a mixture of Shabba Ranks with Martin Luther King Jr. Even though I was there with hundreds of other people, I felt humbled to be in his presence.
He plowed through a mind-bending string of hits. Then, at one point he said, “I’m not known as a rapper, I’m an MC … let me take you to a higher level” He did a five minute long freestyle that would put any young rapper alive today to shame. “We’ve got 25 years of music, I could be here until 5 o’clock in the morning,” he told the crowd. We believed him.
As KRS-One prepared to do his last song, he introduced his DJ—who was outstanding by the way—and in doing so he revealed to the crowd that his DJ was also his son. For some reason that really touched me. Then he rapped over Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I’m not sure that was good, but it was impossibly interesting.
It would have been proper if the show ended there, but it didn’t. In an unsightly dis on a legend—one that spoke volumes about Utah’s backwardness—Immortal Technique headlined. Whoever the fuck that is. Maybe next year Public Enemy can warm up the stage for The Underachievers.