Ill Bill and Vinnie Paz at Red Room Ultrabar, February 23
“Smells like f***in’, like some f***in’ piss, yo,” the guy with the gangster lean says, strutting to the end of the bathroom and back before pulling his shirt off and trading it for newly acquired Vinnie Paz merch. He pauses briefly to admire his tattooed chest in the mirror before pulling the fresh fabric over it.
He’s right. At 10 p.m., the Red Room bathroom floor is covered in urine. The scrawny kid at the far urinal is leaned heavy against the wall, and his eyes start to close. “Yo man, you okay?” his friend asks.
The kid zips and turns, forcing his eyes open. “Yeah man. Just gotta make it to fuckin’ Vinnie, man.” He leans, and his friend catches him by the shoulder. “This is like, sickest night of our lives.” His friend holds him for a second to make sure he’s okay, then claps him on the back. They stumble out as Def 3 takes the stage.
This delicate balance of rap culture masculinity, affectionate brotherhood, and sheer hip hop fan giddiness pervades the night.
When Paz and Bill take the stage amidst a booming heavy metal intro, jacketed, strutting, the crowd is a mess of wordless yells and pumping fists. It’s the Heavy Metal Kings, and we’re here to make noise. But there’s something discordant in the room, too – what exactly is the relation of a group of drunk Vancouverite 20-somethings to lyrics that rage against the American governmental administration, the CIA, the Catholic Church? When Bill yells, “Say fuck the police!” the crowd roars back with apparently genuine feeling, but when he follows with, “Say fuck the DEA!” one can’t help but feel a bit silly. Middle-class Vancouver’s rejection of the police is a questionable appropriation of N.W.A’s original sentiment, but its rejection of the States’ Drug Enforcement Administration is just comically irrelevant.
But, of course, we’re just here to yell along to some hardcore hip hop, and there’s no one better for it than the Kings.
Vinnie’s organized flow and hard punchlines are irresistible live. As a performer, he’s more engaging than Bill, a dynamic force that belies his reported penchant for copious punch-ins during studio recording. A big part of his appeal, though, is the slight sense of lurking mischief in his swagger; his throat-slitting, gun-toting pantomime carries just a hint of self-aware irony. “Murder murder shit” it may be, but we can see Vinnie having fun.
Ill Bill is a focused and dedicated presence on stage. The energy that goes into his rapid-fire lyrics is tangible, and if Paz is the better performer, Bill is the more impressive. Seeing Non-Phixion tracks like “Black Helicopters” and “Cult Leader” live reaffirms the sense that the complexity of Bill’s verses is incredibly demanding for the talented rapper.
Tracks from The Future is Now aren’t the only oldies-but-goodies. The show’s songs span from Violent by Design to God of the Serengeti and include tracks from Non-Phixion, Jedi Mind, and AOTP as well as the two rappers’ solo work. The far-reaching set-list is a blessing and a curse. It’s great to see “Heavenly Divine” and “Anatomy of a School Shooting”, but when the mics are turned out to the crowd to sing the beat of “Blood In Blood Out”, (a sample from Russian singer Edita Piekha, in case, like me, you’ve wondered for years) a surprising number of people don’t seem to know the song. A different set of fans is lost when Paz asks for help singing a Serengeti track. But after seven Jedi Mind albums, three AOTP albums, collabs, solos, and mixtapes, it’s a problem that’s bound to come up.
The show comes to a rousing climax with the eponymous “Heavy Metal Kings”. No problems with unfamiliar lyrics here – the whole room is on its feet, yelling “We got the murder murder shit…we got the gangster gangster shit!” The moment epitomizes what is best about the show, the electrifying energy of mob mentality passion transmitted through violent, empowering lyrics.
Later, I regard my numbed, ringing ears as a proud reminder of a great show. No, the crowd wasn’t all Islamic gangsters raging against socio-political injustice while raiding alien tombs and uncovering mythological secrets…but they were all there for a loud, hardcore hip hop show, and that’s exactly what the Heavy Metal Kings delivered.