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Inside the Good Life offices on Kingston Street, the principle minds behind the monthly party "PVRPLE" are dissecting the finer points of the music they feature on the first Thursday of every month. In broad terms, the night's repertoire spans the last decade-plus of Southern hip-hop, going back to when Master P was commanding his No Limit soldiers up through Gucci Mane's drug-fueled bravado.
But upon further scrutiny, it's not that simple. Sift through the nuances and soon you need a scorecard to keep up with the rapidly multiplying, subtly different sounds that have emerged from within that spectrum: trill, trap, based, crunk, swag, and chopped-and-screwed. Each offspring offers a different flavor, from the hazy ambient electronic stoner rap of Pepper Boy to Waka Flaka Flame's flamboyantly aggro headbangers to the hyperactive snares and dramatic strings indicative of trap, which itself has split into sub genres based on hip-hop (think Chief Keef's smash "I Don't Like" or Jay-Z and Kanye's "H.A.M.") and EDM (electronic dance music).
Regardless of whatever label sticks, what's clear is that Southern hip-hop is evolving faster than writers and fans can come up with buzzwords to describe it, and even in a stronghold of traditional East Coast rap like Boston, there's a hungry audience for it.
"I think 'PVRPLE' came about from the national interest level going up in this style of music," says Jeremy Karelis, who's Tumblr site “steady leanin'” sponsors the monthly party. "You have people like A$AP Rocky using Southern hip-hop and making it his own and bringing that to the forefront again, so now you can play Master P at 'PVRPLE' and people care, when before people hadn't thought about [him] for ten years."
"PVRPLE"'s title color reflects everything from the party's lighting to the feel of the music, not to mention the cough syrup and Sprite cocktail consumed and often celebrated in songs by some in the Southern hip-hop scene. The night began last August as the brainchild of Omar Cabrera, who also serves as a resident DJ under the name Amadzy. Together with Knife, Karelis and his co-blogger Nate Welch, they came up with a simple concept: to put all the various subgenres of Southern-inspired music currently exploding on the Internet, plus the songs that inspired them, under one roof for one night a month.
Without losing its taste for belligerent party rocking, the music at "PVRPLE" reflects the evolution of Southern rap and its effect on hip-hop on a national scale. Internet and social media have created an environment online where Harlem rappers can sound like they're from Houston, or where EDM producers in Chicago can find inspiration in the hedonistic bravado of Memphis-born Juicy J. The aforementioned A$AP Rocky's mainstream success has been built on a modern appropriation of Southern rap aesthetics, forging a path followed to varying degrees by the likes of SpaceGhostPurrp (Miami), Main Attrakionz (Bay Area) and the rest of the A$AP Mob. Even though "PVRPLE"'s playlist favors high-energy tracks made for the Saturday night crowd, now all the distinguishing amongst subgenres is suddenly understandable.
"My approach is to try to draw some connections between the older stuff and the new electronic and hip-hop music that's emerged from that," says DJ/producer Ryan Durkin, part of this Thursday's bill. "'PVRPLE' is interesting because it straddles the line between electronic and hip-hop music and you can hear how they have influenced each other. For example, everyone playing on Thursday has also produced electronic music. It's hard to find a night that balances electronic music and hip-hop in a tasteful and interesting way, and I'm always looking for that."
"PVRPLE" also finds the balance between progressive and nostalgic in its guest DJs. Past guests have included Michael "3000" Watts and OG Ron C, who's chopped-and-screwed remix tapes helped launch Swisha House Records to national prominence in the early 2000s. Largely forgotten after their top artists fell off, they're grateful for the opportunity to keep their legacy alive.
Meanwhile, April's guests Trap-A-Holics (of Connecticut) might skew towards amped-up cuts from artists on the cutting edge of EDM trap music, where the likes of Flosstradamus, TNGHT and Baauer (responsible for last winter's omnipresent "Harlem Shake") have incorporated heavy bass and sped-up snares with glossy synths to create the new electronic sound of the moment. The response within Boston has been strong: after building an audience of genre fans and curious club-goers, the night celebrates 10 successful months this Thursday when Drankenstein guests.
"We try to combine a little bit of everything, as much as each person involved can handle," says Knife. "Among ourselves we all have different tastes, but we have a unified vision of the kind of music we like and want to be heard played in the club. Sometimes clubs may get nervous when DJs play music that we play, so this is finally a place where you can play whatever you want."
But just as the Internet helped create this interest, the fact that tastes could shift elsewhere just as quickly isn't lost on "PVRPLE"'s brain trust. With offshoot styles multiplying at a dizzying rate, it's difficult to forecast where Southern hip-hop will go in the coming months or years. But you can be sure that "PRVPLE" will be tracking it carefully.
"The same way that people in the Northeast may think about Wu-Tang, people feel the same way about old Cash Money, Screwed Up Click and Swisha House music," explains Karelis. "You hear so much of that familiar stuff out here, that when you bring something else to the forefront, people end up wanting to see that."
- "PVRPLE" features Drankenstein with Durkin, Voltran and Amadzy this Thursday, June 6, at Good Life, 28 Kingston St., Boston.
Martín Caballero is a Somerville-based arts writer for the Boston Globe and editor of JTTS.com.
This program aired on June 6, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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