"Open mic" is a longtime catch-all used for showcasing unsigned and amateur musicians of all stripes, from earnest singer-songwriters to cocky rappers, and at the Brass Monkey Saloon this week, both were in abundance. The two distinct crowds got along surprisingly well at Mic Life Wednesday--hosted by local rappers Lyrical Leviathan and Black Wind and sponsored by Brown Monkey Music and local hip-hop publication
(which this author has written for and whose Petula Caesar, associate editor/senior writer, contributes to
). But the small Fells Point bar feels distinctly like a rock club, with its walls plastered with posters and stickers for metal bands like Cephalic Carnage. DJ Chuck Maddox set the schizophrenic tone early on, mixing from Run-DMC to Korn to Michael Jackson, and when Black Wind initiated a freestyle cipher to kick off the night, he and several other MCs rhymed to a backdrop of drums and guitar played by a couple of guys who looked fresh off their skateboards. The culture clash continued as Mac, a kid in sandals from Annapolis, took the stage with an acoustic guitar for a cringe-inducing cover of "Gin and Juice." Ironic covers of hip-hop songs, and particularly that Snoop Dogg chestnut, have been a plague for years now, and one of the token arguments against them is that you'd get your ass kicked for playing something like that in a room full of rappers. But in the relaxed atmosphere of the Brass Monkey, everyone cheered in recognition and no one gave any indication of offense--although maybe Mac should've been booed on principle. Even the rappers were a little on the weird side--one member of stoner duo Bloodshot was decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, another duo's string of metaphors compared hip-hop to video games, and the Playstation controller on one MC's shirt implying he knew as much about the latter as the former. But later in the night,
and Raw D.O.C. provided the street-savvy Baltimore rap found at more traditional local hip-hop events. The night's highlights, however, turned out to be the balladeers. One amazing guitarist whose name we didn't catch played in an elaborate, finger-picking style so intensely rhythmic that the crowd started clapping along with no prompting. Eventually DJ Chuck Maddox began beatboxing along with the song, and the singer didn't miss a beat as his solo performance spontaneously became a communal event. Featured performer
was armed with a mohawk, a six-string, and a disarmingly soulful voice. And Chuck Maddox continued beatboxing, putting a "Top Billin'"-esque backbeat to her song "Selfish" and making the R&B influences in Schreiber's vocals all the more apparent. Rock and hip-hop are constantly intersecting these days, the mix no longer as novel as mash-up DJs or "rock star" rappers would have you believe. But in a city like Baltimore--where white and black culture can still feel dispiritingly segregated and where there's often zero crossover between its rock and hip-hop scenes--it was seriously refreshing to know that something like Mic Life Wednesday exists.