Say what you like about southwest Philadelphia’s The Bul Bey, the man knows how to throw a party. In celebration of the recent release of the music video and single for “Where I’m From” and the forthcoming release of his project Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies, he got a few friends together at The Fire. I had never been to the venue before, but I will certainly be back. A small bar in the front, records scattered all over the walls, gives way to a fairly spacious back room with a stage deeper than it is wide, allowing for quick changes between performers. Back behind the soundboard, Bey himself was dishing up free water ice for everyone, a welcome cool down from a hot Thursday in the city as local battle legend and national Red Bull freestyle champion Mic Stew opened things up. Stew seemed particularly proud of a record he recently did with Bey, having Matthew Law (formerly known as DJ PHSH, the regional Red Bull Thr33style champion) run it back a few times, underscoring the family feeling of the whole event. He was clearly comfortable on stage, initiating crowd participation and rapping over their claps and chants. Between sets Law kept the crowd bopping, whether they stayed in the back room or headed out to the bar. There was no fear of missing a set while grabbing a drink, as the venue kept a continuous video feed on a TV out front, wedged between the big screens showing the Phillies game.
Singer Faylin Johnson was up next, performing a mixture of covers and originals to backing tracks provided by the sound man. Those backing tracks and her intimate performance place her firmly in the R&B equivalent of cloud rap with Tumblr darlings like Jhene Aiko. Bringing that feminine energy balanced out the typically masculine local hip-hop vibe, keeping the family feeling intact and initiating a series of sing-alongs for the ladies present. After Verbatum Jones took the stage, she returned to help him with songs they’d done together on his Winter project. The clear spirit of collaboration among the various performers was inspiring, leading perfectly into Verb’s perennial mantra “Everybody Eats” and his ever-popular cover of Mos Def’s “Umi Says”.
Since backing vocalist and keys man Leon headed off to solo endeavors, Bey’s backing band Hazie Blu has gone back to their original lineup with guitarist CodeNine‘s brother Q taking over those duties. The differences in phrasing and tone that have been created by the change kept things interesting for long-term fans, while new fans were no doubt won over by his powerful vocal abilities, most effectively shown on “All I Do” from Bey’s 2010 mixtape In the Meantime—yes it’s a Stevie Wonder interpolation. This was the first time many had heard songs from the forthcoming release live, and they did not disappoint. “Where I’m From” showed itself to be the true summer anthem that it is, provoking a mass singalong from the entire audience despite only having been released perhaps a week before. Playing with a live band enabled Bey to avoid uncomfortably rapping along with a guest verse, using Davon‘s spot in the track to introduce the band by letting each of them play a little solo. Their chemistry is clear, Bey’s simple hand signals directing them to turn and stop on a dime, professionals to the core. This is definitely an artist to watch in what remains of 2014.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC