Conway The Machine, Boogie defy standards on Anti-Venue Tour

Hip-hop finds an unorthodox home at Buffalo's Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center

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From trap to conscious rap, a versatile mix of rappers hit the stage during Buffalo’s annual Anti-Venue Tour on Saturday night.

The tour, now in its fourth year, featured headlining MCs Conway The Machine and Boogie, alongside its yearly assortment of the Queen City’s premier rhymers. The tour, presented by production visionaries Haute La Vie since 2166, is annually booked in atypical locations.

Saturday’s version was no different, as rappers performed in front of over 300 people inside Genesee Street’s Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center. The walls of the center, equipped with Ukrainian cultural odes, offered an unlikely compliment to the modernist raps onstage. As artists performed on the rustic venue’s second floor mainstage, a lounge upstairs featured graffiti-tagged mannequin DJs, static-laden TVs and a projected old-school movie.

All together, with rappers and radio hosts alike, the tour presented a uniquely creative backdrop in New York’s second largest city.

The night started with a bang of local artists, including the large-scale Buffalo rap group Good Neighbors Club. The club acted in boy band-like unison, specifically when rapper Kane Wave approached the mic with an ooze of cool.

Through an onslaught of grunts, chants and call and responses, the group’s performance was chock full of posse cuts.

Members of the group decked themselves out in a sea of trap, bass-infused noise and aggressive attitudes at times, too. 
After a dance and bar-filled appearance by Young Slime, the trio of rappers “oozed” a dirty New York rhyming style.

The gang, flooded with an admiration for money for self, effortlessly engineered rhymes into the crowd’s ears.

But as more and more songs went by, performers from Good Neighbors Club and others conglomerated on stage to form one unpoppable bubble of hip-hop. As the performance commenced, the group made sure to get a few water tosses, stage dives and mosh pits going before the night’s conclusion.

Multi-faceted rapper and designer Billie Essco followed the two groups.. Essco focused on lyrics and narrative from the beginning of his act, traits supported by his unraveling of words of snares and bass. From songs about depression to motivational interludes centered on “being yourself,” Essco repped his city around every musical turn.

The MC turned his mix into a snowfall of rock to close, and his drummer clocked his solo into overtime to the delight of the crowd.
By the time Shady Records signee and tour headliner Boogie hit the stage, the crowd was already in a different element.

The headliner received a warm reception as he started with cuts like “N––––a Needs.” On numbers like “Sunroof,” Boogie’s exhibited his ability to fill in the musical blanks with melodic choruses on the slightly funky instrumental. His West Coast sensibilities along with his focus on delivery and cadence separated him from the mostly East Coast event. And one of the standout moments of Boogie’s set was his stage invitation to two female MCs, one who rapped like a pro.

After another short number, and an ambitious attempt to get the crowd started up — the rapper had to end his set early due to technical difficulties.
As a follow-up to Boogie, the second headliner Conway The Machine musically stomped the tour back into shape. Conway, perhaps the living definition of grittiness and rawness in rap, knocked the crowd around on the mic.

Conway trickled ridiculous amounts of boom bap and hard deliveries into the mic.

From his “Love” freestyle off his “Reject on Steroids” project, to more guttural and spacey bass-filled songs, Conway looked like the complete MC package on Saturday.

About 15-20 minutes into the set, Conway brought out a special guest — Westside Gunn, his brother. The two originated in the city of Buffalo, so to say the crowd was behind them would be an understatement. Gunn performed briefly, but nothing to the extreme, as he played songs like “Lotto” and songs from his second album “Supreme Blientele.”

Conway didn’t beat around any bushes, either. He cut straight to the chase until his close and proved himself to be one of the more genuine rappers today.

As the tour wrapped up this year, crowds appreciated the event’s local flavor from start to close — so it’s only a matter of time before more hip-hop is harbored again in the Queen City.

Benjamin Blanchet is the senior features editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com and @BenjaminUBSpec.