Punk rock and hip-hop have their differences. While punk fuels anti-establishment furor with sloppy, fist-pumping riffs, rap is usually way more stylish, focusing on clever rhymes, distinct flows and mid-tempo beats.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Luke Henshaw, DJ Unite and DJ Sesh—members of local hip-hop group First Power Crew—from launching Hip-Hop vs. Punk Rock, a monthly series at The Tower Bar in City Heights that pairs punk bands with hip-hop acts. The series has been a success, with its first anniversary show happening on Friday, April 6. First Power Crew will go up against hardcore punks Death Crisis and rappers Jihad the Roughneck & Maestro Gamin will take on Kansas City’s Nature Boys.
Though they seem worlds apart, fans from the punk and hip-hop worlds get along just fine. Of course, bands have occasionally turned down offers to play at the series, but Henshaw and Unite say many performers and attendees share a love for underground music and appreciate the show’s DIY spirit.
“When you see punk bands going on, you see hip-hop heads in the background nodding their heads,” Henshaw says. “We haven’t had one fight. It’ll get out-of-control, but it’s all in good fun.”
After all, the two genres do have their parallels. They both emerged in New York City in the late ’70s. They both tap in to peoples’ feelings and frustrations. And they both have a hard edge: Back in the ’80s, even ladies’ man LL Cool J was known to deliver in-your-face rhymes over stripped-down beats.
The guys in First Power Crew have long had a close connection with both worlds. Henshaw, aka Mr. Henshaw, knows his way around an MPC, the sampler of choice for hip-hop DJs. But he also plays in the high-octane punk band Bumbklaatt. They began playing annual shows with Death Crisis four years ago but struggled to find a venue for a monthly series because the shows would be so crazy.
“We didn’t have to force it together,” Unite says. “It just made sense, even though it feels like two complete polar opposites.”
Mostly booking local bands, the series has highlighted many underground hip-hop staples and a wide spectrum of punk bands, from straight-ahead chanters Jet Kill Radio to tongue-in-cheek robo-punks The Stalins of Sound (Disclosure: My band, Bruisecaster, has played at the series.) As DJs, Unite, Mr. Henshaw and Sesh like to play obscure, oldschool rappers like Steady B and T La Rock.
Though the name suggests the series is a competition, it’s not: There’s no point system or judges. But it’s not uncommon for some concertgoers to pick a victor at the end of the night.
“I just sit back and laugh,” Henshaw says. “As long as you had a good time, we all won.”
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