“Underground” hip-hop as a subculture is no more. Sure, the genre is still kicking with anti-mainstream iconoclasts, but it’s not something that needs to be sought out and prized any more. Like finding the love of your life or the nearest burger joint, accessing it is as simple as a click (or swipe). Social media and online platforms have leveled the playing field, while simultaneously opening up the floodgates for a million bedroom emcees and producers. It’s made relevancy a shitty swamp to wade through. It’s been even harder for many of the underground acts of the pre-Soundcloud/Spotify era to stay afloat (El-P being the only exception). I mean, did you know Aesop Rock dropped another album with Rob Sonic a couple months ago? Probably not. Which is why it still baffles and delights me when I see some of my forgotten favorites play Las Vegas. Who would have thought the neon city would be a place where artists such as Sage Francis and Brother Ali can still pack venues?
On that note, I hope there’s a good showing of support for 2Mex. The underrated underground veteran headlines Sunday Riots at Civilian Clothing’s main outpost (6460 Windy Rd.) February 22. While his output’s been limited in recent years, he was inescapable in the early-to-mid “aughts.” A member of duo Of Mexican Descent and collective the Visionaries, he was featured on a ton of records coming out of Los Angeles. Some of his best work came in the form of Look Daggers, a collaborative project with the late Ikey Owens (keyboardist in Jack White’s touring band and former member of The Mars Volta). 2Mex wasn’t—and hopefully still isn’t—afraid to experiment with different styles. And he certainly didn’t shy away from matters of the heart. He’s at his best when he’s anguished. Songs such as “I Didn’t Mean to Touch Your Hand” and “Before You Say No” are anthems for heartbroken, angsty teens. That said, he’s a bit of an acquired taste. If you like your hip-hop more straightforward (and without a thick Mexican accent), openers Noa James and Stevie Crooks are reason enough to come out.
Another artist who’s kept it low key is violent rapper-turned-emotionally dark songwriter Cage who, along with the equally bleak Sadistik, makes his way to Beauty Bar on February 24. Cage has one hell of a story: His father was a heroin addict who made Cage help him shoot up; he was abused by his stepfathers; he did a ton of drugs himself and wound up in an insane asylum at 18. That translated into a lot of rhymes about sex, drugs and violence in his early career, and an accusation that Eminem stole his style. However, 2005’s Hell’s Winter stands as his magnum opus, where he came to grips with the dark reality of his past and transitioned into a deep storyteller. Although he was a key player in the Def Jux and Eastern Conference crews, he almost entirely disappeared from the scene after 2009’s Depart From Me. He didn’t re-emerge until 2013’s Kill the Architect, which saw a return of his horrorcore style. He announced last month that he’ll be retiring after his next two projects, so catch him while you still can.