Atlanta rapper, A.Tone Da Priest and his backing band hit the stage this weekend for an inaugural performance at East Atlanta’s Moods Music in the Little Five Points district of the city. A.Tone is known best as an out spoken conscious rapper with a more than healthy online following, boasting of over a million views on YouTube amassed along the past couple years. His attention to detail and intense lyricism have caught the eyes of several critics who have praised his multiple releases, the most recent being an LP titled Stand By My Words. On this night A.Tone would bring a much needed twist to an already great event.
The sponsored event, Feed a Starving Artist, kicked off at 6:00PM ET on a moderate Sunday evening. Upon entry, minutes before, the tiny venue which usually serves as a neighborhood record store was nearly packed wall to wall with only sparse standing room available. I grabbed an open chair as hip hop artist Black Dove rolled into his set. He started off the show, setting the tone for what this urban based music event would come to offer.
Each act was allotted a three song set, and for the most part, it was a lot of what you would expect from an open mic showcase in Georgia’s capital city which as of late has taken the hip hop crown. There were many rappers with your typical odes to money, hustling, struggling, woman and of course partying, though some were more tasteful than others. Many had traveled from as far as the Midwest and East coast just to partake in this showcase, and although the talent was apparent, in many cases it became hard to differentiate between many of the 30 plus acts.
After a healthy mix of smooth R&B soul, conscious and not so conscious rap, an intermission was taken in which A.Tone Da Priest and his band began setting up. The band contains three members who respectively play cello, drums, and guitar, A.Tone being on the latter. As the host prepped the crowd and asked the lead man a series of questions, an awkward dry sense of humor prevailed as he evasively joked his way through before introducing himself, the drummer (Jamual) and cellist (Todd) as Tha Disciplez, comically stating, “This first song is inspiration for people… without it…” which was greeted by a room full of genuine delayed laughter.
Also introduced was A.Tone’s sister, who played the role of mic stand, as they began with a rendition of his already buzzing single, “Get Up & Go,” which had me nodding my head more intently than the original version had before. The performance was less than stellar technically, but the driving drum beat and Da Priest’s strong yet fragile voice captured an attitude seldom heard in music these days. The crass blending of instruments created an enthralling dynamic similar to that of a car wreck. While it may not have been the prettiest looking thing, it was sure hard to take your eyes off of. The crowd was parted between those moving to the beat and those who were attempting to understand what exactly was going on, as Tha Disciplez single handedly broke down barriers of everyone’s expectations of what “hip hop” could be.
As the first song came to a sudden end with an impromptu atonal solo by A.Tone, he dedicated the next number boldly, “to fascist and the unchangeables… who persist with the nonsense.” A dark sounding organ suddenly filled the room shortly accompanied by the crunching sound of an electric guitar marching with dissonant spinning cello in the backdrop. The explosive drums kick in and off they went into a thrashing rock style chorus paired with hard hitting hip hop verses screaming a tale, from what I surmised, of reaching a peak in frustration when forced to deal with those held unaccountable for their actions. Just like that however, it was over leaving the urge for more.
The set, despite how short it was, captured a true rock esthetic reminiscent of a different time when musicians were still having fun as bands. In a showcase which mostly featured the playing of instrumentals and artists stressing about being perfectly dressed, styled and sounding, A.Tone came through seemingly with a big middle finger to what everyone else was doing. The disjointed sound of Tha Disciplez manifested a unified feeling of teen angst and urgency that is missing in much of today’s music.
With an event filled with extraordinary talents such as the acoustic trio of sisters, Amor Kismet, who caught my attention as one of the best live singing groups I’ve seen in ages, or masterful MC’s such as the Qua-Czar Cruisers who displayed complex rhymes which could rival old school Outkast’s material. It would have taken a lot for anyone that night to stand out amongst the others. However, with A.Tone Da Priest’s willingness to not play it so safe, he made a decision which will continue to allow him to do just that. Stand levels above the competition which at this point, I see as far and few in between.