This past Wednesday, February 11th, I had the pleasure of checking out a set by an artist we’ve previously featured here at #JPLMagazine, Sur5ill. Making the rounds at various venues in the Greater Boston area to promote his Work mixtape, he performed at The Middle East, an esteemed venue in Cambridge, MA, opening up a night of Hip Hop performances headlined by noted underground duo, Tanya Morgan.
As a testament to his work ethic, it’s worth mentioning that after compiling a list of attendees via his Facebook invite, Sur5ill offered to and followed up on personally delivering tickets to the show. Mind you, up here in the Northeast, we’ve been covered in snow now for 3 weeks and counting, so it’s particularly admirable and telling that he was even willing to do this. As a paying customer to an underground Hip Hop show, I certainly appreciated it, and don’t think for one second that I didn’t consider the gesture when it snowed yet again a couple of days before the show, ensuring the trip there would be a wintry, messy one. It’s this type of drive and passion towards one’s brand that in one way or another separates the men from the boys. The fact that he hand-delivered the ticket made it that much easier for me as a consumer to say “screw the snow, I’m going to this show.” Score one for literally going the extra mile(s).
He opened the set with #feelme, a track from his LE Project days, then hit his stride performing tracks off the Work mixtape, namely “Cover Letter & Resume”, followed by a mash-up of #nerddom into #stratosphere, and “Corporate Speak” which he performed with his guitar to round out the set. Sur5ill got the crowd into his performance by effectively bringing out the angst and resignation that comes with a layoff and subsequent job search, the central theme behind the Work mixtape. This particular ability, to rap with frustration at times, confidence at others, and in some moments with a self-effacing, not-taking-myself-too-seriously undertone stood out. To pull off that many vibes, again, all thematically central to the content of the songs he was performing, in a roughly 15 minute set was indeed impressive.
I particularly liked “Cover Letter & Resume”, in part because it’s my favorite track of the mixtape and it did not disappoint in its live form. Pulling out the guitar and setting that aforementioned tone of subdued resignation on the chorus to “Corporate Speak” was also a highlight, especially when contrasted with the sharp, focused, determined delivery of the track’s verses. His set was for the most part devoid of lulls or low points. Donning New England Patriots attire, between tracks Sur5ill not only shouted out the Super Bowl Champion Pats, he also took deliberate shots at New England’s opponent in the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks, a move that kept the audience hyped and awaiting his next song. My only criticism would be some dead time at the very beginning of the set, before the first verse of #feelme kicked in, a space where I would’ve liked to have heard a brief artist introduction. It’s always important to let your audience know who you are, where we can find your music, websites, twitter handles, etc… Doing so at the beginning isn’t one’s only option, but if you’ve got nothing else for the intro, it’s always a safe, useful way to go.
All in all, I’ll reiterate my sentiment from my prior write-up; if you haven’t checked out Sur5ill, you’re doing yourself a disservice. His Nerd Rap style is appealing, relatable, and carries a strong message without coming across as preachy or all up in your face about it. Having experienced the Work mixtape, Childish Gambino came to mind as a comparable artist (note: comparable, i.e. not a carbon copy, but in similar lanes). It was therefore both not surprising and validating of my own ear when I heard someone behind me utter, “Childish Gambino” during the set’s opening track. Sur5ill makes fun, intelligent songs, and as he continues to grow both musically and on stage, the prospects for how far he can take his vision are boundless. Simply put, there’s a market for his niche, and Sur5ill’s overall sound and vibe is eclectic enough to pave the way for even more followers. Don’t sleep on this cat.