Spoken word slam poetry and hip-hop collided at Gallery5 Nov. 1 for The True Commonwealth, a showcase put on by RVA Magazine and Association of Great Minds. The show featured some of Richmond’s premiere hip-hop artists including Michael Millions, Radio B and VCU alumnus Nickelus F.
The evening started with Roscoe Burnems from Rise Up, a collection of oppositional poetry. He delivered his poem “Metaphysics 101 for White Privilege,” which begged the question, “if a tree falls in the forest and the people in the forest pretend not to hear it, did it make a sound?” The performance set the tone of challenging norms and celebrating blackness that dominated the night.
Local rapper Cole Hicks then took the stage, performing a few tracks from her new record “MAY DAY.” She opened up with the brief but addictive “5188,” and her soulful and smooth “Chocolate Perfection” was perhaps her most memorable song. Lenny Bones took the throne behind a drum set to provide additional percussion for Hicks, as well as every subsequent musician. Hicks closed with “Southside,” dedicating the tune to everyone in the room who hailed from the titular Richmond locale.
Michael Millions then treated the venue to some atmospheric urban beats from his new release “Hard to Be King.” T-shirts sporting the album title crowded the room as Millions opened with “Sirens,” which features a hook many Richmond natives can relate to:
“I hear those sirens outside, I think it’s goin’ down.”
Nickelus F, Radio B and producer Name Brand provided backup vocals for Millions’ title track “Hard to Be King.” Millions’ sound takes cues from J Dilla and MF Doom, with lo-fi LP scratches, jazzy keys and horns sampled from various artists.
Nickelus F soon took the stage and, while he was not advertised as a “headliner,” he was a clear favorite among the audience. He opened with “Sleazie Wonder” from his new album “STUCK.” Any fatigue the crowd might have been feeling at that point immediately dispelled at the command of F’s impassioned and angry vocal delivery, a striking departure from his calmer, sleepier delivery on the studio track.
F then moved on to the sinister “Walls of Jericho,” providing the most animated performance of the night, headbanging and growling into the mic with a rasp not unlike that of MC Ride. “Tanqueray,” a track from 2013’s “Vices,” proved to be the favorite, with nearly everybody bouncing and singing along. One particularly thrilled fan even hopped on stage and danced with the performers for a few bars.
The much-loved rapper closed his set with “Mids” from “STUCK,” which brought back the soul vibe with its funky sampled guitars and ‘70s-esque midi strings.
The True Commonwealth was an easy going and supportive celebration of black lyrical talent in Richmond and should have plenty of performers to book for years to come.