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Women Rock the Mic

Oakland's Higher Ground
hosts female rappers

By Nicky Baxter

Okay, I'll admit it: When informed that the Higher Ground, Oakland's newest hip-hop spot, was presenting "Queen's Night," I was a little antsy. Would this be about music or an excuse for more black-boy bashing?

Happily, the spirit of the former prevailed. In fact, there was little speechifying this evening; rather, the women rappers and MCs allowed the music to do the "talking" for them.

The evening's bill included a string of performers: Kenyatta, Persia, DS and Toy the Comb-less Negro Child, most notably. The audience, a healthy mix of young males and females, dreads, nappy heads and afro-puff folk, seemed unconcerned with numbers glided onto the large dance floor alone and in pairs to get the party started.

But things didn't really jump off until after a gaggle of open-mic contestants flexed their wares. The first few freestylers were impressive enough (one even incorporated a reference to Porno for Pyros!), but things began to drag a bit after a while. On the other hand, it's crucial for local up-and-comers to represent--in distinct contrast to the rock community, there are few places where rappers can sharpen their skills.

Once the "queens" assumed command of the mic, things moved smoothly. All of the acts had a modicum of flavor, but for my money, Toy (the Comb-less Negro Child) rocked the house the hardest. She came the closest to preaching femme power, declaring herself an independent, self-produced artist with her very own CD out.

From the outset, it was clear Toy was no ordinary word-and-sound scientist. Anyone with the verve to blast Jimi Hendrix's classic blues "Hear My Train Comin' " as a backdrop for a rap attack deserves mad props. Indeed, Toy didn't so much rap as rant in an oddly cadenced, mesmerizing style unlike any I've ever come across.

"Down in the City," a tune from her CD, was just as idiosyncratic--and utterly groovy. Sung-spoken in a delightfully dissonant cant, it could be a contender.

Persia, a South Bay product was mostly ruffhouse and little reason, stalking the stage like a predator and gesticulating like a shell-shocked shadow boxer. It wasn't clear whether she'd been here before, but Persia had the fists pumping and mouths moving with her brief set.

DS was old-school hip-hop: two brother/human beat boxes and a young woman kicking lyrics. Technical difficulties marred the set, but DS worked the crowd like seasoned carny barkers. Oh, yes. Higher Ground earned its name--everything was "peace." Now, if only the crew can get that darned DAT fully operational.

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