Sometimes I forget that, for all of its issues, Memphis really is the coolest city in the solar system. Or, it has the potential to be, at least. And then nights like last night happen and I'm reminded all over again of why I chose to settle here. When Al Kapone pumped his finger in the air and chanted, "One love," it was officially a shout out to Craig Brewer. Still, it felt like a little piece of that love was aimed at me and everybody else who packed into the New Daisy to see this longtime fixture on the local rap scene perform in front of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra as part of the ongoing and wildly successful (apparently) Opus One concert series.
"This is a hip town," an ecstatic Kapone announced, dismissing Memphis's bad reputation. The crowd went nuts in a way symphony crowds seldom do.
Pairing Kapone and the U-Dig Dance Academy with the MSO could have been a straight up gimmick. But what happened at the New Daisy was the opposite pandering. The deep collaboration between artists was evident front to back as the musicians ran through a program showcasing old masters, a moden innovator, and an original work by a local composer. Kapone was the MC, in every sense of the word. He (with a little help from Lord T & Eloise) was the unique force binding Beethoven's Vienna to Memphis in the here and now.
"Million Dollar Boots" into Beethoven's 5th with U-Dig
Thanks to groups like New Ballet Ensemble and natural talents like Charles "L'il Buck" Riley Memphians are regularly exposed to dance works that blur the boundaries between classical and street. U-Dig Dance Academy erased the remaining lines as they responded whimsically to both Kapone and Beethoven.
"Yaman Yar" by Memphis cellist Jonathan Kirkscey is a droning, mournful, vaguely celtic slice of melancholy that evolves into something warm and comforting with all the sensual impact of sunbeams breaking through a dark cloud that never really lifts. It silenced a crowd that had been whooping and hollering only moments before. No small feat.
Watch the audience
Phillip Glass's String Quartet #3 was a casualty of the environment. It was the piece that set talkers to talking and sent drinkers back to the bar. But Glass's work was always intended to be a soundtrack and, at least for those of us down front, the odd snatches of conversation that escaped from the rumble seemed to actually enrich Glass's beautiful, hypnotic work in most unexpected and comical ways.
The casual audience, disarmed by electricity in the air and delighted by the U-Dig dancers laughed, clapped, and commented all the way through Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," making it a truly interactive experience. But the night belonged to the MSO's Sam Shoup who arranged all of Kapone's selections and to the rapper who radiated joy and charmed his audience at every turn.
Al Kapone reminds: It's all about the music
"We on Deck/Whoop That Trick," was an obvious closer, but for being Kapone's best known track, it wasn't nearly as satisfying as the earnest "My Flow My Hustle," the soulful, horn-heavy "New Jewelry," or the proudly Memphis-centric "The Music," a tune that really let the MSO players cut loose and cut up.
In the past I've been fussed at a bit by the musicians union for posting clips that exceed two minutes. I get it and want to play by the rules. But I hope this time they'll forgive me for posting some that run a few seconds over the limit because, at some point, words fail. And I think it's important for curious newcomers and skeptics to see the the depth of interaction between the symphony players of Opus One, the guest artist, the U-Dig dancers, and the audience.