This evening, The Taft Theater will be playing host to Cincinnati's own WHY?, and they're bringing along some friends - chill-wave act Dream Tiger and indie rapper Astronautalis, who called WHY? "one of the best American bands of the last 10 years." Warming up to him already? If you've been around the Cincinnati scene long enough, you may have seen Astronautalis battle-rapping his way through Scribble Jam several years back. If that was the last time you've seen him, you need to come check him out today, because he's got something new to show you.
After giving up the battle rap circuit, Astronautalis took his freestyle skills and applied them to music that's tough to classify. It's a little bit blues-y, a little bit folk, and a little bit indie rock, but the freestyle intensity remains. His 2008 album, Pomegranate, is one of the most eclectic rap collections I've ever heard, as it contains a song about the Battle of Trenton and one that emulates a Kris Kristofferson. 2011's This Is Our Science doesn't skip a beat, with verses about what Joni Mitchell said and a collaboration with Tegan Quin of Tegan & Sara. That's what you'll get with the Astronautalis of 2013, packaged up and delivered with deep voice growling, neck veins popping, and face blazing red with intensity.
The last time I saw Astronautalis was in 2011 at SXSW, in the upstairs room of a crowded bar that lacked air conditioning but had plenty of Lone Star tallboys on hand. He stood on stage with frequent collaborator P.O.S., spitting verses of the gritty "The Story of My Life". As the song ended, one fan, who clearly wanted to wave his Astronautalis fan club card in the air, yelled, "THAT SHIT'S FROM POMEGRANATE!" And Astronautalis, chest heaving, sweat dripping off his face, smiled and nodded, "That shit most definitely is from Pomegranate." For a guy who dubs his work "historical fiction hip hop", he sure can get a crowd excited.
Since the demise of Scribble Jam, Cincinnati doesn't get this type of rapper stopping by very often. If you want to hear a story in your rap instead of just raising your hands up and popping a bottle, then Astronautalis is the emcee for you. (But we're pretty sure he's cool with raised hands and popped bottles too.)
This is your chance to expand your perception of hip hop. Catch it.