Manhattan rapper Le1f brought his Treehouse Party to Chop Suey Sunday night and instigated the surprise best dance party of the year so far.
Fellow New Yorker and Greedhead label mate Lakutis took the stage first in front of a small crowd by himself, sans shirt, spat on the ground, and played beats from an iPad which he rapped over. What struck me, and everyone else I’m sure, was his nonchalant-weirdo style: breaking frequently to roll his eyes back in his head, give speak-in-tongues-style spoken word, joke with the gathering crowd, and shout YOLO over and over is a risky way to entertain people, but his freakishness was well received by the clientele, and the whole thing came off as performance art/solo rap show oddity that broke the ice for the evening. All this before I mention that Lakutis’ rhyme mechanics are predicated on making deft choices, from hooks and phrases, down to each and every word, like puzzle pieces that come together to form surrealist rap murals too ill for your laws.
Given that the weirdest possible thing that could happen just did, people were more than happy to dance –if awkwardly at first—to the juke/house beats of DJ Mess Kid for the next hour. The beats per minute picked up as the drinks went down and soon queer cuties were sharing the dance floor with straight couples and transgender beauties in dance utopia. Even Lakutis, Le1f, and Antwon came out to dance, the boys bounced while the girls did the butterfly and the twerk, and if the night had ended then, it would’ve been enough, but the party was just getting started.
Antwon came on next, and in keeping with his dark-core style immediately refused to perform until the soundman dimmed the lights. The Byron to Lakutis’s Baudelaire, Antwon emotes from darker, coldly synthesized territory, and takes a hardcore approach to his rap. Tangled in the microphone cord, clad in all black (a Depeche Mode T-shirt, natch) Antwon had the men dancing and the women blushing, serving sex rhymes over hazy Lalo Schifrin score meets early-'80s punk-inspired beats. He performed several tracks from his Dark Denim, Fantasy Beds and End Of Earth mixtapes, took time between songs to chat with the crowd, and sip whiskey. The overall convivial vibe continued with plenty of call-and-response participation, including an Lakutis and Antwon-led rendition of “I Want It That Way,” to which everyone in the place sang along; highlights that were actual Antwon songs were "Living Every Dream," "Hidden Rooms," and "Helicopter."
Le1f wasted none of the energy that had been built, taking the stage shortly after Antwon’s departure and immediately breaking into cuts from his Dark York and Treehouse mixtapes. Everything about Le1f is distinct, from Tumblr fashion sense, to his selection of beats. A lithe dancer and a limber wordsmith, he rapped with a vocal fry and hiss about the importance of our senses. From the opening song "Plush," Le1f’s happy raps exuded appreciation of himself and all things corporeal, and that translated to a concert experience so sensual that by the time he got to "Spa Day," the room was steamy. Le1f and DJ Mess Kid shared tequila shots with the crowd, Le1f busted dance routines, and rapped with accuracy and intricacy, some people crowded the stage to dance, some couples made out in the back.
I got the chance to talk to him before the show (he said touring with Antwon and Lakutis had been “super cute” thus far), and I was surprised by his opinion that both Dark York (which is good enough to be a debut album) and Treehouse are just indications of what is in store—that and the softness of his hands.