Hardly able to contain my enthusiasm, I've spent the last few weeks defending Da Mafia 6ix. Admittedly, most of the group's opponents fall into the "I don't like that rap stuff" crowd. However, even many self-professed hip-hop heads struggle to embrace Three 6. It's a shame, but not hard to see why. There are no critic-friendly jazz samples or heady poetic turns in Three 6's music. Rather, it's cold and hard and bleak; the word is macabre. So grim, in fact, that even the ever-chilly GZA sounds warm and inviting by comparison.
Your cup of tea or not, Three 6 are a cornerstone of modern hip-hop. Ten years before T.I.'s Trap Muzik, these Tennesseans were already several years deep in a style of rap that would later be known as trap -- a form that's now dominating popular hip-hop. John Carpenter-esque piano lines married to layers of haunting instrumentals and funereal lyricism, Three 6's albums express the mercilessness of street-life more sharply than most. It's surely one of the reasons they're often hard to stomach, not to mention, a factor in why many listeners have difficulty relating to their sound. It's uncomfortable to share in stories this real. It's simply much, much easier to dance (and laugh) to a mindless track of Drake or 2 Chainz mumbling about their genitalia than it is to stare into the abyss of suppressed Southern black America. So it goes.
Cut to Dada Saturday night, and everyone is out of their heads, drunk, stoned or simply lost to elation. The club's been frenetically buzzing for an hour, we've been waiting, waiting, waiting for Da Mafia 6ix to arrive. A sliver of hope comes when the crew's sound guy begins fiddling with wires on stage; at least it's some semblance of progress. A small fog machine starts spitting clouds; two mic stands frame the stage, each dressed with a neon Halloween skeleton.
Fifteen minutes pass and lights begin to strobe, masked figures rush the stage, cloaked and brooding. Faces revealed, and I can make out DJ Paul, Koopsta Knicca and Crunchy Black. Finally, music happens. "Break The Law" opens the set, and while the MCs are vocally in sync, they visibly struggle with the small confines of the Dada stage, appearing clumsy and disoriented. Less than five minutes in and there's a problem: The sound equipment has malfunctioned. If you've ever been to a rap show then you know this already, but silence is a sobering downer in this context. It's like watching a bottle rocket wildly spit sparks only to see it fizzle anticlimactically. Similarly, Da Mafia 6ix fail before leaving the earth.