The organizers of The Warm Up, a showcase for hip-hop and Afrobeat held for the first time last week at Stage 722, made a point of emphasizing to me all the hard work that went into getting this event off the ground. According to Kahlil Khalil, one of the organizers who dreamed up this party, it took months of planning and apparently some negotiation with the city to get it rolling. There was an audible tone of relief in his voice as he spoke, encouraged by the bodies making their way into the performance space.
To be fair, there were no more than 100 people in attendance this past Friday night—par for the course for a new event trying to get attention in a city with few media outlets willing to promote it. But if the empty space at 722 bothered any of the performers, they didn’t let it show. Each one commanded the stage as if it were a sold-out arena, pulling reserves of energy and enthusiasm from the audience.
At the risk of playing favorites, the MVP of the night was Mighty, an MC whose song “Game Winner” has been used to open up Blazers home games for the past two seasons. Joined on stage by a live drummer, he kept up a torrid pace, pausing only to tell a brief story or drop a rapid fire a cappella freestyle.
Kahlil Khalil went one step further, bringing a full band along to add an extra psych-funk spark to his laconic mix of lyrical consciousness and bombast. Swiggle Mandela meanwhile ceded a good chunk of his opening set to other voices and bodies, handing the mic off to friends like Jasey Cordeta and G.Swendsen. It was a typically gregarious move for the local hip-hop community that always goes out their way to celebrate their own.