Saturday, July 26

I’ve heaped plenty of much deserved praise on Tucson rapper Big Meridox in these pages over the last year, but that’s not to say anyone needed to read about him if they hadn’t heard him before. But for this member of the very small club of Tucson’s genuinely great emcees, his personalities on record and in a live setting are two different animals. The visceral, verbal knockout punches of Meridox on his albums are very much on display in a concert setting, but so are his humor, easygoing demeanor and personal accessibility. He abandoned the stage for much of his performance, turning a regretfully unattended performance into an intimate conversation. When this rapper is literally in your face—interacting, tossing off jokes that he probably just made up in the spot—a quality of humility, in stark contrast to the militant brick wall that defines his records, actually adds to his authenticity.

Las Vegas’s Astro Blunt—rapper Phil A. and DJ Chrnologic—provided a breezier counterpoint to the fiery intensity of Big Meridox. That’s not to say the duo were any kind of letdown—quite the opposite, actually. Phil A. is full of effortless, aquatic rhyme patterns, while Chrnolgic’s harder take on Daisy Age – era, so called psychedelic hip hop, simultaneously solidified and personalized the already evocative storytelling of Phil. Phil A.’s trump card was his vulnerability, even amidst his proudest boasts. His humanity gave us a character we could root for and identify with.

Mr. E Branes, also from Las Vegas, was all swagger. An elite performer, one of the few whose charisma inflates their physical stature tenfold, E Branes appeared to be ready for a magazine cover shoot when he was grabbing his beer. His authoritative presence, in tandem with an irrepressible flow over bouncing electro beats and orchestral Wu-Tang Clan productions, was infectious enough to cause an uprising. Each song raised the bar and upped the momentum, which caught enough steam that when he stopped one cold after a lyrical misstep, it only raised the pressure in a woefully empty room, as Mr. E Branes took a victory lap with the few of us lucky enough to witness it.

Joshua Levine,