Thursday's "East Coast Jumpoff" at the 5 Seasons, a showcase for Baltimore rappers and visiting out-of-towners alike, took place almost exactly a week after the death of local rapper and label owner Mr. Wilson, a member of the group JI-900. Mr. Wilson--born Michael Dante Wilson, who died of heart problems that he'd experienced since a heart attack seven years ago; he was 35--was a frequent presence at the venue. And though the show was booked well before Wilson's passing, it was the first time since that sad event for several of his friends in local hip-hop to address it in public. Over the course of the night, the show became something of an impromptu tribute to Wilson, even as artists moved on with the business of performing their songs for the small audience assembled.
Ms. Stress hosted the show, and though she only occasionally spit a few rhymes, she dominated the proceedings by simply addressing the audience. Stress has always been an intense live performer, raising her voice and delivering every word with absolute conviction. But Thursday, she took her energy to a whole new level, with multiple impassioned speeches and dedications to Mr. Wilson, as well as lengthy diatribes on unrelated topics. At one point, Stress was holding court and introducing a performer when she noticed one of the acts that performed earlier in the evening was on its way out of the club--taking the audience members they brought with them--and Stress didn't hesitate to call them out, and spent several minutes explaining how offensive it was even after the group left.
Several female rappers performed at the show, mostly from out of town, and though Ms. Stress has long since established herself as one of Baltimore's pre-eminent female MCs, having won the "Madame of Murdaland" rap battle tournament two years in a row, she was generous with praise for her peers on the bill. She dubbed Tiny, visiting from New Jersey, "the queen of Jersey," and C-Note the illest female rapper in America (although Stress proclaimed herself the illest in the universe). The only woman on the bill who came close to Stress' level, though, was
, from Pittsburgh, whose filthy but confidently delivered sex rhymes left a far bigger impression than her male labelmate with whom she performed.
For the most part, however, the night belonged to the usual lineup of male Baltimore MCs, mostly from the local labels
was manning the DJ booth for the night, and took more than his fair share of abuse from out-of-town performers, who felt he wasn't cuing up their tracks quickly enough.
of the Arsonists had the standout performance from those crews, with a commanding voice and booming beats to match, which was refreshing given how often one overpowers the other at shows like this. But the heart of the night belonged to Sonny Brown, a close friend of Mr. Wilson's who took the stage early on in the evening, and returned once more toward the end for a brief reprise of one song, and an a cappella recitation of one of Wilson's favorite verses of his. Brown has always been a compelling performer, but it was almost a little too much to see the MC soldier on after a week of mourning, and it was understandable when he said it'd be the last time he'd perform for a while. Whether or not any official tribute concert takes place, it's a given that Mr. Wilson's name will get shouted out at pretty much every 5 Seasons show in the near future.