Blues harmonica giant Billy Branch knows about bridging gaps firsthand. As part of the Blues in the Schools program, he teaches elementary and middle schoolers about the history and sounds of blues, often performing with these same kids at Blues Fest. Just like these students are exposed to his music, surely he must be aware of theirs. Branch will tell you that the blues laid the foundation for most popular music today, so this Blues/Hip-Hop Intersection was inevitable.This isn’t the first time anyone had the notion for a rap/blues fusion—singer-guitarist Chris Thomas King did an entire main-stage Chicago Blues Festival set two years ago in that vein. Locals Matthew Skoller, Stan Moseley, and both Ronnie and Wayne Baker Brooks have flirted with the idea as well on their respective albums. And from the hip-hop angle, poet Carl Hancock Rux just released a blues-influenced album named after an old Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson song, Good Bread Alley (Thirsty Ear). None of these ideas added up to a movement, but this show, part of Steppenwolf’s ongoing Traffic series, looks at the parallels.
Besides Branch and his Sons of the Blues, the night features hip-hop poet-singer Avery R. Young, poet Kevin Coval, MCs Sense and Butter, singer Mae Coen, Idris Goodwin, Ugochi, Beatmonstas, and Russ Green, a fine harmonica player heard on the recent compilation Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: Diamonds in the Rough (Severn). Green doesn’t turn up often (apart from guest spots with other musicians), so this should give him some deserved spotlight time.—James Porter