The Rap Show: Art Imitates Life

Posted on Posted in Opinion

The combination of hydrogen peroxide and potassium iodide results in quite a colossal volume of oxygen gas. The “Marshmallow” experiment as many people know it.

If you think you’ve mistakenly opened the incorrect link, you haven’t. At first glance, this may seem like a downright weird thing to bring up in a piece about hip-hop for people that most probably have no interest in looking back on their high school days and the experiments they had wished they paid more attention to come exam time, but at a closer look, the similarities between the elementary experiment and the rap concert are huge.


Have you ever found yourself standing before a rapper, wondering how on earth it happened? A self-proclaimed performer quelling the microphone in their right hand with the uncoordinated, vicious swing of the left; the rookie emcee front and center (or in a disoriented pace between all corners of the stage) with six homies in, what should be, a semi-circle chanting on mics over a bad beat hoping the audience is able to make sense of the inaudible mess that is their performance.  And, to top it off, the attempt at denial of how bad the scene really is just as you look down at your entrance band and remember that you actually paid to see this. Rap shows can be gruesome if the right people are given stage time. But this piece isn’t about the despised bustle of rap concerts; it’s actually the polar opposite. This electrifying and spiritual music experience oozes with grandeur.

My first experience of any live hip-hop being performed on a major stage was somewhere in Newtown. At 15 and coming from cyphers and open mics, I had with no major expectations. Covertly, I laid low and stood at the back in admiration of all that was happening harmoniously: the tug of war of respect between MCs during battles and as each group performed one after the other, the radiance of the people, the lively energy and the unreal feeling of comfort despite the initial uneasiness of me being too young to be there. Fast forward to the Sprite Uncontainable final event that year and a not-so-much-older but (after a series of shows) a much more experienced me had upgraded to front row – an almost completely different experience all together.

Oxygen aka The Genius Loci

Rap shows hold a very rare quality that, as hard as I’ve tried, I’ve struggled to find at other places. The front and back row spaces differed, not in what was being done physically, but in the intake of the clear common factor: the energy hulking the venue. Like the Marshmallow experiment, as the different factors of the rap show accumulate, they are mounted to a pinnacle of sublime. Whether it’s gaining momentum off of the fellow hip-hop headz’ energy or having the performer stream his vigour and rhymes into you, the environment’s ambience is impossible to ignore.

Potassium iodide aka The Spitta

Retrospection is dangerous: you could look back at the juxtaposition between the two, vastly different but prominently similar, spaces and easily favour the low-key, back of the venue, no spilt beer, jostleless experience that requires no stamina, with a tender sense of fervor promising yourself to incur the same pleasure the next time. In all honesty though, that would only mean a decline in the interaction with the most significant part: the performer. The solid white potassium iodide crystals act as the catalyst in the marshmallow experiment. Before the unrestrained crowd, our MC delivering the performance laced with a banging beat and punchlines has the exact same effect; provoking emotion in the audience and altering the ambience, either through the boos and mutters of frustration or through lyrically attacking every hip-hop head with unholy delivery and leaving no track without the applaud and difficultly gained respect of the otherwise tough crowd.

Hydrogen peroxide aka You

Rap fans seem to have a love-hate relationship with rappers: one minute we’re advocating for rappers to gain mainstream success and in the next minute we’re complaining about the inevitable changes artists make to gain that commercial appeal. It’s not often fully taken into consideration how powerful a body is until it’s given a load. In this case, the load is the overlooked ability that the audience has to carry a show and to determine its success.  Imagine a confident Cassper Nyovest front and center, verses at the ready as he approaches the end of the stage of an empty dome. There would be no show. Whether the response is good or bad, there would need to be the body of hip-hop headz giving the artist something to present his months of tweet and magnum opus to. The hip-hop bunch is reactive, and rightfully so. It’s this nature of the people of the Hip Hop culture that distinguish us from others.

The detergent aka the REACTION

In the Marshmallow experiment, it’s the presence of the dishwashing liquid that allows the reaction between the hydrogen peroxide and potassium iodide to be seen.  Without it, there would just be the release of oxygen gas.  It’s the visibility of the chemical reaction that allows it to be compared to a show; it’s the relationship between the factors that makes for the outward expression. “Sometimes concerts can turn into church, almost”, said 9th Wonder to an audience full of lambency when asked what to expect during his set the next day during the 2012 ‘Women in Hip Hop Conference’ hosted by SABC 1. The hip-hop connoisseur spoke of wanting to recreate the same church atmosphere that he had previously done in the city of gold. “People come and you don’t know what kind of problems they had during the week. You don’t know what they’ve been through. Sometimes people just want to let go. Sometimes people have heard the radio the whole week and are just tired of it. You take those kinds of problems to church, so sometimes concerts can be that way.”

The dynamics of a rap show are stellar and the dependency of all of the factors on each other makes the unitary experience nonpareil.  As the Carl Jung quote goes, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction both are transformed.” Almost oblivious to it, we are continually amidst that very reaction.


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