The ‘Lo End Theory at Highline Ballroom

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On Sunday, January 21st, Dallas Penn threw a party to celebrate 25 years of 'Lo-Life Culture in a celebration called The 'Lo End Theory. Along for the ride he brought Sean Price, Buckshot, Roc Marciano, Thirstin Howl III, Meyhem Lauren, Timeless Truth and featured surprise appearances by J-Love, AG Da Coroner, and Just Blaze who had his own special guest, Freeway. It was the Conservative Rap Coalition dream concert.

The show was billed as more than a concert, it was also the opportunity for Lo-Lifes and Lo-Heads to gather and show off their favorite pieces and outfits and catch up, drink a lot; plus buy, sell and trade various gear. It felt like it was more about showing off than selling. Various people brought vintage pieces for sale and set up tables to sell damn near every piece of clothing you could imagine, with many of the most desired pieces going back a decade or more. When Just Blaze pulled out his Suicide Ski Jacket onstage, you could hear a gasp from the audience.

Opening up the show for the buy/sell/trade portion of the evening was DJ Gudtym and J.Markx, spinning as The Officials who dropped everything from Nas rarities to staging virtual battles by playing KRS-1's “The Bridge is Over” verses cut with MC Shan verses to give us a taste of two titans going at it. The selection was excellent and the skills were very good with J.Markx doing most of the turntablism for the duo. Their mix of various hip-hop eras and individual borough flavors helped set the tone as crowds of progressively drunker people would shout out their neighborhoods as they were referenced in the songs.

Dallas Penn, who organized and MC'd the event, kept everything nice and light wearing an outfit he called his “Futuristic Ninja Yachtsman look” and it probably cost more than my entire wardrobe.

J-Love was the first unannounced guest who performed a handful of songs with AG Da Coroner and Prince Original, both of whom feature on J-Love's newest mix “Most Interesting Man Alive.” J-Love is a legend in the community and been making mixes since the 90s with an ear for talent that's helped him gather his Outdoorsmen (like Action Bronson and Meyhem Lauren), who have all gone on to great acclaim but J-Love is more than just the best A&R man you've never heard of. His list of production credits is worth hunting down so you can get a sense of what makes kids like Joey Bada$$ tick.

This was the first time I'd ever heard Timeless Truth and they were so good that I immediately went home and bought their debut album Rock-It Science off iTunes when I couldn't find them after the show. Timeless Truth is Oprime39 and Solace out of Queens and they'd been working on Rock-It Science for two years (seriously, go look at their Facebook timeline). The album is full of very good wordplay and a diverse set of styles that can get fairly dizzying very quickly. Unfortunately, iTunes didn't list producers nor are they listed on SoundCloud but there is some seriously amazing production work on this album as it manages to be both forward-thinking (that sample on “All Other's Pay Cash!”) and traditional (“Wherever We Go” bonus cameo by Meyhem Lauren). Their album has features from damn near everyone who performed at The 'Lo End Theory and Timless Truth is able to craft a track that fits in with the guest artist; witness the near perfection of “Men of Honour” and it's verse from Roc Marciano. You can stream the album from SoundCloud and you should.

Up next was Meyhem Lauren and I'm running out of words to say about him. His rapping is great and he brings his friends along with him and it usually turns out that they're awesome too. Meyhem Lauren is named after Ralph Lauren so his presence as both a seller at the event (selling to Sean Price even!) and performer. He was more in his element than I'd ever seen him going so far as finishing his set in the audience and rap directly to us instead of at us. It was perhaps a bit more reminiscent of Action Bronson than intended but it was still a nice touch to close his set.

Following Meyhem was Thirstin Howl III and Rack-Lo, as both names are puns, you can see where this went. Thirstin Howl came up as a battle rapper so that degree of over the top wordplay and charisma was visible in the set as both he and Rack-Lo traded tracks back and forth and both went on extended freestyles with a profession of love to Polo and to everyone in the building.

After this, Just Blaze was a special guest DJ until, like the WWE, Blaze played a Freeway song and suddenly Freeway burst from the side of the stage. It was unexpected and seemed to re-energize the crowd. Freeway played for about 30 minutes and shook hands with everyone in the front row. It was pretty great to see someone from Philly come on stage and talk about how this particular sub culture within New York had managed to influence him as an artist and as a person, giving love and getting love in return.

Roc Marciano was next playing tracks from both Marcberg, his breakout record, and Reloaded which distills further everything Roc Marciano is trying to say as an artist right now into a damn near perfect statement of intent. His voice isn't as buttery smooth live as it is in the studio, but he makes up for that by being far more energetic than I had expected. He had his DJ cut songs immediately after his last verse, so that he could just keep going and going playing more songs. I wasn't keeping track but he hit every song I had wanted to hear him perform, while making it look easy.

The final two acts were Duck Down Music's men of the hour as label head and member of Black Moon, Buckshot, and half of Heltah Skeltah, Sean Price, closed out the evening. Buckshot was in very good spirits despite losing some of the crowd who had begun to drift to another official after party event.

Sean Price closed out the night, this time performing without a mic stand, which allowed him to wander around and interact with the crowd a bit more. His set was very good and you can tell he likes to fuck with his audience. He pulled the same “I say Sean, you say P” call and response test (which this audience failed) that I had seen at The Knitting Factory. I highly recommend that you pay attention to what he asks of you instead of just going ahead and doing what he says. Joining Sean on stage was Labba and Meyhem Lauren. You can currently get Sean Price's newest album Mic Tyson off Amazon for $5 and you absolutely should.

What’s a ‘Lo Life? What’s a Lo Head? What’s the difference between the two?