Africa and hip hop, a beautiful Manifestation

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Manifest got me into the Fine Line. For the first time ever, after I don’t know how many years, after visiting almost all the clubs, bars, and dancehalls downtown had to offer, I finally made it across the street from South Beach (before it became Karma) and walked through the doors to the Fine Line. Why I never visited Fine Line before, I don’t know. The stars hadn’t aligned I guess. But finally they did on September 14th 2007. They had to: Africa was in the building.

I heard music was in the air. I heard hip hop had boomerang back to the west coast of Africa and back. And the vehicle was literally going to manifest that night at the Fine Line. I’d been introduced to Manifest (or rather his work) few weeks prior on MySpace, and right away, I heard the promise in his words and delivery. Nothing against my brothers and sisters finding their voice in the throng of voices screaming for attention in the hip hop game, but Manifest sounded as if he’d been practicing his craft a bit longer than most. Naturally, when he told me about his CD release party, I engraved it on my calendar.

First on stage, local start-up Maria Isa rocked the crowd with her signature Latin flavored delicacies. Then Big Quarters came and served some of that upper Midwest brand. By the time local hip hop legend, I Self Devine introduced the man of the hour, you couldn’t walk from one corner of the club to the other without asking excuse from three and four people. Though I doubt these were the usual Twin Cities underground hip hop consumers. It seemed Africans had answered the call just as I did.

Needless to say when Manifest finally walked on stage, posed, exchange smiles, grabbed a microphone and asked sweet chariot to carry him home; then called out to Minneapolis, few answered; same thing for St. Paul; when he inquired about Africans in the crowd, I swear I saw the roof go up few inches. For over 90 minutes, Manifest kept it coming; one after the other, songs good enough to merit airplay on any radio anywhere.

I was born with reggae on my lips, but I stole a sip from hip hop. However, as the 1990’s came to a close, I dropped that cup faster than a thermostat pushes to 90 degrees in the Sahara. As much as I dislike the brand of hip hop on radio and T.V nowadays, I know what they got that underground lacks: catchy chorus that invite listeners to participate in the song, clearly articulated lyrics (even if you don’t like what they say, you hear what they say), and beats that hold their own with or without the words. At concert…well, I don’t call a DJ spinning behind a guy with a microphone concert. On the other hand, when I saw the backup singers, I knew right away this one was going to be different. From the speakers, Manifest proved he was ready to walk with the Jay-Z’s and 50’s. The beat he rode upon good enough to stand next to a Kanye West joint. (Most of the songs are self-produced.) And like many in the audience, I found myself singing along as if I knew all the songs before.

With his 5”11’ or so frame, jumping around the stage like a kid in need of Ritalin, delivering thoughtful lyrics wrapped in the usual hip hop bravado, you wouldn’t help but jump along with him. The whole room did. Some of us got tired, found a seat, came back, and he was still at it. He got out of his kinte gown, lost the hat, soaked in sweat he continued to give the crowd what we came for. I left. What can I say; my endurance is not as it used to be, But not before exchanging ten dollars for Manifestations, the CD in question. And that CD, It’s the intersection between African and American (you only need to press five and listen), reggae and hip hop (skip to track two and watch Babylon Breakdown), hip hop past and future (well, just press play and let the CD spin).