Mainstream hip-hop is gross. Clear Channel's "rhythm/urban" radio and BET's video programming are full of stock images -- gleaming muscles, luxurious cars, champagne for no reason, skies that rain money, sexy marijuana exhales, impossibly bouncy butts -- that either titillate, offend or (for the desensitized) bore. It is mainstream, id-crazed hip-hop that Oprah, Cosby and Sharpton hate, and there are many reasons to hate it.
But the real crime is not that the mainstream glorifies things a "good person" shouldn't do, but that it glorifies things ridiculously unattainable for its audience. By the cartoonish standards set in mainstream hip-hop, you will never be cool, paid, laid or high enough to compare with your favorite star. That's why they're the stars, and you're... human.
Psychologically, the distance between a sparkling star and his all-too-grounded fans -- usually from the TV to the sofa -- is bridged by voyeurism or escapism. Physically, the distance between Listener (hip-hop emcee Dan Smith) and his fans is the actual distance from the TV to the sofa, and is bridged by wayward spit and sweat droplets. That's because Listener made a point of touring your homes.
Last March, KXLY profiled Listener during the Spokane stop of his Tour of Homes (archived at www.listenertourofhomes.com). Playing living rooms, backyards, attics and driveways, the tour was Listener's response to concert requests from fans off the beaten path. By definition, the tour was aimed at the few, the interested, the adventurous. People brought food, potluck-style. Listener brought beats and rhymes.
The tactile sensibility of Tour of Homes made sense. Listener's lyrics are earnest searches for meaning and substance; delivered sing-song-style, they ebb and flow like so many white indie-hop bards, soothing and frantic, measured and hysterical. For beats, he'll put loping acoustic jams right next to fuzzed-out feedback stomp.
It's intimate. Like your favorite coffee shop. Or like the sealing wax Listener stamped on the backs of his Talk Music LPs. The touchy-feely DIY vibe can get a little weird, but it also gets to the heart of things. When band member Wolfgang Robinson plays percussion on a washing machine, it's not business as usual -- it's personal.
Listener is back on the road, only this time he's playing more "real" venues. Reaching for Tom Waits-meets-Sage Francis, his wordy, artsy, intimate hip-hop is finding audiences in college auditoriums, art spaces, on rooftops, at the Blue Spark and, yes, still in a few homes.
Listener with Holy Eyes and Freetime Synthetic at the Blue Spark on Friday, April 27, at 9 pm. $3. Call 838-5787.