The two emcees of the Beetnix are in front of me and, at the moment, they can’t stop laughing.
What we’re listening to…
“The General Specific,” by Band of Horses (from Cease to Begin)
“Driving in the Dark,” by Shannon Worrell (from The Honey Guide)
“Walk Away,” by Tom Waits (from Dead Man Walking soundtrack)
“Stay Human (All the Freaky People),” by Michael Franti and Spearhead (from Stay Human)
“She Spread Her Legs and Flew Away,” by Crooked Fingers (from Crooked Fingers)
“Oh It’s Such a Shame,” by Jay Reatard (from Blood Visions)
These aren’t the deep, belly laughs of grown men; not the modest, muffled chuckles of a parent. Neither told a joke, nobody fell over, and as far as I know I have nothing stuck in my teeth. I simply asked the group about a certain song—“Citizen Kane,” first recorded by the group two years ago, never released, resurrected for a video shoot roughly a month ago on the Downtown Mall and one of more than two dozen tracks the pair plans to refashion for two big, long overdue gigs at Gravity Lounge. And that’s when the giggling starts.
“It makes me kinda giggle,” says Damani “Glitch” Harrison, his eyebrows raising the roof as he laughs.
“It makes me giggle,” answers Louis “Waterloo” Hampton. “Especially when we talk about scratching the tip of the iceberg, as far as presenting it.”
Harrison and Hampton are quick to pay dues to local hip-hop godfathers: Each gives high marks to emcees Asheru and Blue Black, hip-hop artists that met at the University of Virginia in the early ’90s then formed hip-hop collective Unspoken Heard. (Asheru also composed the theme song for “The Boondocks,” the animated series based on the comic strip of the same name.) But since the late ’90s, and more clearly since 2003’s Homesick and 2004’s Any Given Day, the Beetnix have been the fathers of local hip-hop—mentors for younger artists like Ari “Ghetti GeT” Berne, the curators and headlining act of a 2006 hip-hop festival at the late Starr Hill Music Hall.
But both Harrison and Hampton say that the band went through something of a reinvention two years ago. Local performances by Beetnix have been fewer and further between, but bigger in ambition. In May 2007, the ’Nix assembled an acoustic band including local rock vet “Earth to” Andy Waldeck, guitarist Tucker Rogers and current In Technicolor drummer Wade Warfield for a sold-out “Beetnix Unplugged” gig at Gravity Lounge. Hampton became a father (to a boy named Elijah; Harrison has a daughter). And songs like “Citizen Kane,” a scorcher even by Beetnix standards, were recorded but never found home on a new album.
Damani Harrison and Louis Hampton bring the Beet back with two Beetnix gigs at Gravity Lounge.
So why the giggling?
On November 13 and 14, Beetnix plan to upstage their last blowout gig with a two-night stand at Gravity Lounge—an “Unplugged” gig on November 13 at 7pm and a “Plugged-In” follow-up on November 14 at 9pm, with a new band each night.(Tickets are $15 per night or $25 for both.)
“If we could make a dream band of available musicians—not ‘I want Tom Morello’ [of Rage Against the Machine] on guitar,’ but a dream band…we finally made it here, I think,” says Harrison.
“You’ll probably see them with us for a while,” adds Hampton.
And so the two emcees—both grown men, both fathers—giggle like kids, eager to hit the Gravity Lounge stage for their first local show in months, and what could be their most ambitious yet.
“We’re not just gonna come onstage and give you a hip-hop show,” says Hampton. “We’ve done that. If we’re gonna give you a show in Charlottesville, it’s gonna be big.”
In a basement studio of the Music Resource Center, Andy Waldeck plays father figure to the group on-hand; he’s coaching guitarist Munier Nazeer through the chord progressions of “Rebel Music” as if he was teaching a musical alphabet—from E to E flat on the intro, and E to C on the verse. “You guys ready to do some Beetnix music?” he asks aloud, calling the group to order. “Let’s groove a bit,” he says to Harrison and Hampton, “then you can hit the mics and kill it.”
The first few takes are rough; the group is still learning how to play nice, socialize as a group, share the sandbox. But Waldeck gets emphatic with his bass notes and both Harrison and Hampton signal a few off-beat accents on “Rebel Music” with their hands, and the group begins to get the hang of it. Four takes later, and the song is tight, nearly ready. Harrison and guitarist Tucker Rogers shout “Definitive!” and Harrison hits “Record” on his laptop so he can track the practice take.
When the song is over, the band moves on to “Arm and Hammer” and sets a structure to the song, then runs through “Citizen Kane,” which they’ve rehearsed before. And everything sounds tight: It’s a glimpse of future Beetnix potential built upon previous efforts, Waldeck’s avalanche bass riffs and Rogers’ guitar work fleshing out the fury of the song while Harrison and Hampton spit: “Hit like a nine wood, focused like Tiger./ Headed for the green, the American Dream.” And during the chorus, they both grin, stuck somewhere between kids high on energy and parents trying to impose a structure.
A father of modern dance
Curtain Calls is thrilled to welcome choreographer Bill T. Jones to town for a weeklong residency at UVA. Jones’ week begins with UVA’s first Arts Convocation on November 9 at Cabell Hall Auditorium (see calendar for event details) and continues with master classes, a free demonstration and lecture on November 13 at The Paramount Theater and a workshop performance that digs into the Tony Award- and MacArthur “Genius” Grant-winning choreographer’s creative process on November 15 on the UVA Lawn. Plan now, and be sure to check C-VILLE next week for more details on Jones’ residency and events.