By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
The highly talented MC Blackbird—born Gershwin Hutchinson—used to be called "the black Jim Morrison" by regulars at hip-hop venues like the Good Life Cafe, Project Blowed and the AfterLife, mostly because of his expansive vocal range: he goes back and forth between rapping, spoken word, singing and his own improvised character voices. But he's also got the charisma and the wild history to fit a Lizard King.
For more than a decade, Blackbird performed alongside luminaries like Jurassic 5, Pharcyde and the Freestyle Fellowship, but he was actually a member of the legendarily hedonistic crew Darkleaf—as talented as the aforementioned crews, but devoted to partying a little harder than everybody else. Blackbird now flies solo, however, with new control over the impressive range that made him a crowd favorite. Being completely sober has made him sharper than a Ginsu knife; the proof is in 13 sizzling tracks produced by Paris Zax on his album Bird's Eye View (on Alpha Pup), said to approach Lord Quas levels of hip-hop creativity.
Zax's production slides from ambient down-tempo grooves to gritty and driving beats, but Blackbird rides each song with ease: "Working with Paris Zax is easy," he says. "He gives me the room to experiment, where some have tried to structure my unstructured rupture."
His song "Survivor" is attracting new attention because Blackbird opens up about his past with an honesty that is rare in the macho-dominated world of hip-hop: "I air my laundry in hopes that someone else is going through or feeling what I'm feeling," he says. "My motivation is going where the next man won't go. I feel like the worst thing is going through something and feeling like you're the only one going through it."
This sense of purpose has him on the warpath doing countless shows in all kinds of venues. He's been known to rock punk audiences with fearless abandon, and he launches himself far beyond Saturn in his performances. How does he let go?
"It's being able to laugh at oneself—not taking oneself too seriously," he says. "I don't know shit. I just remain open!"
Blackbird PERFORMS AT THE BLUE NILE CAFÉ, 438 E. BROADWAY, LONG BEACH, (562) 435-NILE; WWW.THEBLUENILECAFE.COM. FRI., 9 P.M. FREE. ALL AGES.