Coming Together, Falling Apart

This past week was a big one for Booker T. Washington High School—and an abysmal one for local hip-hop

You know who went to my high school? Karl Ravech, host of ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Or so rumor has it. To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure it's true.

But the sports junkies at my high school used to think it was pretty awesome.

Hey, someone to look up to! From our neck of the woods!

PPT ended its impressive run last week when the band's members decided to break up the group.
Brian Harkin
PPT ended its impressive run last week when the band's members decided to break up the group.

And, I dunno, maybe that inspired us to an extent.

So, yeah, I was a little jealous on Saturday night. At Booker T. Washington High School's homecoming event, an evening held in celebration of the arts magnet school's $55 million expansion and renovation, poor ol' Ravech got his ass handed to him. The school trotted out a cast of its brightest alumni—the bill included Grammy Award-winning producer Shaun Martin, New York Times-lauded jazz pianist-composer Frank LoCrasto, New Bohemians Edie Brickell and Kenny Withrow, Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Norah Jones—and each act performed short sets for the sold-out crowd of students, faculty, fellow alumni and donors sitting within the school's new outdoor amphitheatre.

(Hell, the school didn't even need neo-soul queen alum Erykah Badu to join the lineup in order to make it an impressive one. Good thing too—Badu hurt her knee during a performance in Vancouver the night before and was unable to be a part of the show, as had originally been planned.)

Oh, and the whole thing was MC'd by Lost actress Elizabeth Mitchell, another Booker T. alum.

Sure, the show was a little awkward and forced at times—um, it is still a high school, remember—but, in all, it was an impressive display. The night opened with student-led tours of the campus, with short theatrical performances from students in the new black box theater and with a student jazz ensemble playing to the audience as they entered the amphitheatre.

And, ah yes, the students—they were, indeed, the real stars of this show on Saturday. Staring wide-eyed as their school's esteemed alumni ambled onstage and mumbled (quite consistently) about how weird it felt to be back at high school to perform, the students stood clearly in awe of those who've come before them and enthusiastically cheered their predecessors' sets—hilariously at times, like they were attending a KISS concert or something.

But love was a two-way street on this night, as the celebrated alums happily spouted out the party lines about how happy they were to be back, how impressed they were by the new facilities and how much a Booker T. education had meant to their successful careers.

It was Brickell, though, soft-spoken as ever, who stole the show. After a performance of her smash "What I Am," she launched into a story about politely refusing to play the evening's show the first few times she'd been asked: "I told them, 'I think you have the talent covered.' Then they flattered me, and I said yes."

She even wrote an original song for the occasion; it was simple and short, sure, but singing "If I had to be in high school again (God help me)/Put me back in Booker T. Washington," and namedropping a teacher or two was all the audience needed for the night to be a memorable one. In return, they offered Brickell the lone standing ovation of the evening.

All very uplifting, inspiring stuff.

It was not at all disheartening, unlike PPT's break-up had been earlier in the week.

Since the 2006 release of Tres Monos in Love, the hip-hop act's debut on the local Idol Records label, the trio of Pikahsso, Picnic and Tahiti had been the toast of the town, at least as far as local media outlets (this publication included) were concerned. And it was deserved for the most part. Sure, the act cribbed a bit of its style from other hip-hop troupes, but it also managed to do the unthinkable in this town.

See, PPT wasn't just another rap act, contentedly tossing an instrumental beat to some sound guy at open mic night after open mic night and rapping away to an audience of 10 uninterested fellow MCs. No, PPT put on an inspired live show, charmingly interacting with audiences through call-and-responses and sing-alongs and, in doing so, managing to stay light-hearted instead of clichéd. As a result, the group found itself appreciated by the city's most skeptical fan base: the indie rock audience.

That's no small feat, and looking back at PPT's relatively short run, that's the group's lasting legacy. Talented, inexperienced Dallas-based hip-hop acts starting to pop up on the scene might not openly thank PPT for its trailblazing audience-opening career in the future, but they should.

And that's what's so frustrating about this break-up. PPT was known for its silliness, for its creativity, for its fun spirit. To hear this week—and to have it verified by all three members—that the group's break-up was caused by the same things that cause every band to break up (jealousy, creative differences, lapses in communication; read the interviews on our music blog, DC-9 at Night) is pretty shocking.

The good news here—if there is any—is that all three members seem interested in continuing performing around town. Pikahsso will remain the most prolific musician in town (earlier this week, he released a song celebrating Senator Barack Obama's winning the Democratic primaries). Tahiti will continue performing alongside him, and Picnic, who's about 15 years the junior of his former band mates, will continue his inspired progression as a producer and MC.

And while we may one day look back at this break-up as the greatest thing to ever happen to Picnic's career, that doesn't mean we have to like it right now.

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