It was summer of 2003 when I fully realized that hip-hop had taken over the world. I was on vacation, sitting on the small Croatian island of Hvar off the Dalmatian coast (the whole island smelled like lavender) and 50 Cent was blaring from inside a local restaurant, “Talkin' 'bout shortie's birthday.” No matter where I went on that Eastern European trek, familiar rap hits followed me around.
Lately there's been talk about the stagnation of hip-hop. Sure the talent pool is flooded with mediocrity, and maybe a tough economy and war-weary country makes flaunting wealth and the art of sore loserism less appealing, but I think the main thing hip-hop needs to do to move forward is experiment musically, as well as to become less insular and predictable. It must grow because, as a culture and lifestyle, it ain't going anywhere.
One local artist who's thinking ahead with his own raw, post-hip-hop style is Chinonyeelu Uchechi Amobi, a painting major at Virginia Commonwealth University who performs as Diamond Black Hearted Boy.
“Hip-hop has gotten stale, a lot of things are suppressed or repressed,” Amobi says. “I'm recontextualizing hip-hop with noise music, world music, new identities like Goth — stirring it all up.”
With colorful fashion recalling street-level artists such as the young Jean-Michel Basquiat, Amobi, 24, has a strong eye influenced by contemporary South African and Japanese artists. His shows take on the air of performance art: A YouTube clip shows him at Nara Sushi playing layered music on his laptop while painting what looks like ancient rock art on the floor while strobe lights flicker above.
His stage name came from a song by the indie-rock group Fiery Furnaces, and it fits his conflicted approach. “A lot of my music comes from a dark place, but I want to be a nihilistic optimist,” he says. “I want to mix the raw, dark, African elements with the cute Japanese anime thing.”
Amobi was born in Alabama after his parents emigrated from Nigeria. His father worked as an accounting professor and when Amobi was 5 the family moved to Chesterfield County, where he later attended L.C. Bird. His brother, with whom he started rapping with at an early age, performs under the name Chi-Chi the Kid and recently opened for the Eminem-associated group D12 at the Canal Club. Growing up, the family traveled the world and was exposed to various cultures and music.
Amobi now branches outside of traditional hip-hop composition, using rock, traditional African chant, electronica, video-game noise, found sounds — and layering them into a hypnotic, creeping cacophony. He says he was influenced firsthand by experimental local shows at the Church of the Crystal Light and the Pom Hole.
Since Amobi began releasing free downloadable songs and cassette tapes, some national blogs and college radio outlets (such as WFMU) have touted his work. Amobi and his brother are associated with Hollywood Cemetery (or HC) Records. This label of young 20-somethings includes alt-rapper Jaeson K (co-owner Josh Williams) and the pop-punkish electronica of From the Darkest Part of the Woods. It recently released a mix tape, “Night IV,” and promotes artists through the usual places: MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.
Label co-owner Philip White helped start HC a year and half ago and hopes to make a name for Richmond similar to the underground L.A. music scene. “We want to support the scene and bring more free shows,” he says. S
Diamond Black Hearted Boy, Rasual the Knowbody, and From the Darkest Part of the Woods perform for free Saturday, Sep. 26, at Knowbody's Place, a warehouse on 234 E. Broad St. Other artists may be announced. Music starts after 9 p.m. Upstairs is electronica and hip-hop, downstairs will be mostly dance music.