By Jack M. Angleo, senior content director
A few months ago, when StayUp.News covered PnB Rock’s Baltimore concert with Lil Baby, we mentioned that many names from XXL’s vaunted freshmen list muster little recognition, among them names like Mickey Factz. He and his 2009 list mate Blu are on a short tour together nearly 10 years after being named freshmen. The two have been steadily releasing projects over the last decade, but each of them has remained firmly in the underground.
Factz and Blu are part of the huge but largely unseen underground “lyrical” hip-hop community that emerged in the mid-90s as “gangster rap” transformed the genre. As hip-hop was increasingly embraced by a mainstream that did not demand high technical proficiency in the genre, the most technical of rappers were often forced to niche status. The resulting niche scenes have flourished over the last 20 years, and have undergone transformations and splits to the point that, like the rest of hip-hop, there seems to be little reason to attempt to categorize them anymore. We’re far from the Rawkus Records days now.
On November 19, Mickey Factz and Blu came to Songbyrd Music House in Washington D.C. Over the course of the night, fewer than 100 people circulated through the club, several dozen always situated near the stage, watching. However, by the end of the concert, most of the crowd had dissipated, not willing to stay until the very end of the evening. Those few dozen in the front were passionate about the show, however, and even knew the songs the headliners played.
The opening sets were noteworthy, especially the final by Math Hoffa. Any battle rap fan should know that name, and perhaps even be surprised at his appearance. He performed trap inspired songs, many from his new project, to a handful of people, a few of who seemed to know whom he was. He even recited a few battle rap bars to make sure people were aware of his history in the game.
Los Angeles native Blu, born Johnson Barnes III, came up after Math, having seemingly not changed whatsoever in appearance since 2009, complete with his signature hat and facial hair. Blu wasted little time during his set, moving from one song to the next with virtually no time in-between. At first, this tactic served to preserve the momentum of the show, but eventually came to feel impersonal. Part of the reason to see an artist live is to experience their personality, and the lack of almost any banter denied the audience this opportunity. Blu’s performance was subdued to say the least, with the emcee opting to move back and forth slowly across the stage with little facial expression, albeit while perfectly spitting his somewhat complex rhyme schemes and lyrics. At the end of Barnes’ set, several members of the audience started yelling a request for an encore, but Blu just smiled and ignored them as he walked off stage.
Mickey Factz took the stage next, and one of the first things he said was that Blu should have performed that song the audience requested, and that he would bring Blu out at the end to do it, which he eventually did. Mickey Factz’s performance, unlike Blu’s, was energetic and personal. Performing just as many songs, Factz made sure to address the audience and talk to them between his passionate performances. Factz performed material from throughout his discography, with varied emotional content, from fun bangers that make one jump, to songs where Factz is screaming and nearly crying into the microphone, to laid-back tunes.
If audience response is any indication of the success of an artists at a particular stage in their career, then there are still many who are passionate fans of Blu and Factz. They follow the artists wherever they go and with whatever they do, even if the majority of the hip-hop listening audience is mostly uninterested. The meager attendance and drop-off toward the end of a long night indicate that there is only so much time that people will listen to some artists.
These incredible photos from Mickey Factz’s performance at Songbyrd Music House in Washington, DC, on November 19, 2018, were taken by StayUp.News senior content producer and photographer Jack M. Angelo: