By: David Garcia
Army Of The Pharaohs
On October 22, fans of underground hip-hop had a very rare opportunity to catch Philadelphia's Army Of The Pharaohs live at The Observatory in Santa Ana. What one would assume to be a quiet Wednesday night was quite the opposite once inside the building walls of what has become known as Orange County's hotspot for live music of all genres.
Starting off the night were a couple of rhyme-spitting duos known as DMC and Children Of A Lesser Fraud. The latter of the two, made up by Anu322 and 2Mex, performed in preparation of a full-length album that they plan to release in February of 2015, with AOTP's producer featured on several tracks.
Next to hit the stage was another pair of emcees known by their on-stage names of Zilla and Lawrence Arnell. The two brought more energy than their previous openers but it wasn't until Blacastan hit the stage that the audience really became engaged. With a statement in the middle of his performance that went, "Ya, I'm a hater and I don't give a fuck! Is Soulja Boy real hip-hop? NO! Is Wiz Khalifa real hip-hop? NO!" Blacastan had the crowd pumped up for the main event and made sure to weed through all the fake hip-hop heads in the crowd.
Read more: The Best Concerts in OC This Week
With the opening emcees trading back and forth on stage and the DJ scratching throughout each performance, the night began to take on an old-school battle-rap feel that most younger OC residents would likely only know from the final scene of Eminem's 8 Mile film.
About 10 minutes prior to the headliners taking the stage, the house DJ spun Notorious BIG's "Juicy" with Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents" to follow. The two hip-hop classics had the whole crowd singing along as the venue began to fill up with weed smoke, indicating that those in attendance were officially ready for the headliners to bring everything they had out onto the stage.
Just one day after releasing their fifth studio album, Heavy Lies The Crown, the horrorcore supergroup took the Orange County stage. Vinnie Paz, Celph Titled, Block McCloud, Reef the Lost Cauze, Esoteric, Crypt the Warchild, Apathy, Planetary, Ill Bill, and more were all part of the AOTP crew on stage.
In a sponsored ad on Facebook that came out earlier this week, the group suggested, "AOTP shows are rarer than albino alligators, but you have two chances to catch the crew in the wild this week." Frontman Vinnie Paz began the set by explaining that there were only a few shows booked for the group of successful solo underground artists; their current "tour" consists of two appearances in California and one in Paz's hometown of Philadelphia.
Paz, formerly of Jedi Mind Tricks and founder of AOTP 16 years ago, started the performance with an a cappella of the chorus in "Heavy Metal Kings" before stopping the song and pointing out that he felt like something was missing.
Next to come out was his long-time partner, Ill Bill, who was also originally featured on the studio recording. The crowd knew exactly who he was and erupted in an explosion of cheers and screams as the two took the stage in front of an audience who had more than likely never thought they would have the chance to see the two performing live in front of their eyes.
From their raspy voices to their bone crushing lyrics and fast paced flows, this ensemble of in-your-face rappers put on a show to remember. The entire performance was comprised of original tracks by Army Of The Pharaohs, Jedi Mind Tricks and solo efforts. The crew–who consisted of close to 20 rappers on stage at one point–performed songs that had the entire front row and beyond singing along to well-known hits like "Save Yourself," "Heavenly Devine," "Seven," "Dump The Clip," "Bloody Tears," and "Swords Drawn." Vinnie Paz also took it upon himself to send condolences to the fallen Mike Brown of Ferguson, Missouri. He asserted, "We should not be scared of the government. They should be scared of us."
Throughout the entire performance you could find the artists who were not occupied on the microphone walking from each side of the stage and signing fan's memorabilia of all kinds from vinyl records to hats to shirts to shoes and more.
Following "I Against I" was another speech from Paz expressing how grateful he was to be in California and performing on such a rare occasion with all his friends by his side. As he chugged a bottle of Grey Goose before heading off stage, he explained, "I'ma keep it 100, this is the most fun I've ever had at a show."
After a few minutes of the crowd chanting for one more song, the Army Of The Pharaohs returned to the platform to perform their latest single, "Terrorstorm." Next, a continuous freestyle between multiple AOTP members over Dr. Dre's instrumental for "Xxplosive" ensued. Before exiting the stage, Paz switched roles as he hopped on the turntables while his DJ dropped one of the hottest freestyles of the night. The show officially ended with everyone in attendance throwing up a peace sign for a final photo just before midnight.
The Army Of The Pharaohs continue onto Los Angeles for night two of their short run on the West Coast at the El Rey Theatre this Friday night. The next known show for any member of AOTP will feature Vinnie Paz live on Halloween Eve at the Best Buy Theater in New York for Cypress Hill's "Haunted Hill 2014" with La Coka Nostra and Immortal Technique. Albino alligators, indeed.