By Natalia Glenn
MR Fest Press Team
At the stroke of 5:00 pm, Valentino’s resonated with the mesmerizing scent of freshly baked bacon cheese pizza. It’s disturbingly hot. Everyone is sitting down waiting for the first MR Fest performer to come up and then we’re graced with the wildly conscious presence of Brandon Smith.
Smith immediately turned up every internal volume the audience possessed. The first few songs he started off in his set came straight from his new album that was released, titled Africa: Black Boy, to a Black Man. He was flowing with eyes to the floor bringing the most reflective content to the audience. The lyrical flow he was spitting talked of what it means to be a black boy transitioning to a black man in America, over the most meditative instrumentation. A motif of most artists tonight was certainly an old school, laid-back presence on stage. The instrumental that Smith procured on stage resonated all over the walls. The sound that was turned into the freshest beats referred to the 70’s to early 90’s funk and R&B period. He rapped on the instrumental from Will Smith’s “Summertime,” and I thought it was absolutely perfect for a spring festival. The chairs and tables did not keep everyone from wanting to wiggle around and feel the music. He finished his set and left the room’s atmosphere feeling introspective and cool due to all the chills his lyrics gave them.
As the sun started to set, our next performers revealed themselves as a dynamic duo composed of two brothers that call themselves Kid Brother. The chicano rap artists started their set very hyped and excited to spit some rhymes about real and hilarious life experiences. Kid Brother had the crowd laughing and swaying along with their quirky songs. The laughter and chill vibrations that resonated in the room were a totally different exploration of mood for the restaurant to experience. I do think the light-hearted and fun stories these guys were telling definitely were important, but the fact that you finally see a couple of hispanic brothers in the hip hop scene is very important to take away. The brothers were swaying and pointing, within the confines of Valentino’s tiny stage, at the crowd to get them moving along with their movement. The jokes in between sets makes you really want to get to know these guys and know what they’re really all about. Their style really needs to be in more clubs and performances.
After Kid Brother was done, there was a little stress in the air from the heat and no one there to perform just yet. Luckily, a few members from Grid Squid really saved the day. Kazee.Queen and Chris knew that the vibe was dying a little, but they really scooped the ball up and dunked on all of us. Completely ad-libbed and drenched with talent, the individual artists tore up the stage with everything they had. Kazee.Queen performed some songs that had her rapping and singing. This performance was absolutely crazy because she has an absolutely crazy beautiful voice and had the crowd clapping with her beat. When she started laying down bars, they were talking about everything that needs to be talked about in the rap game, society and important features of her life. Chris Alvarado came in bringing some whole other type level of game. His solo round was actually a set that left me feeling a little awe-inspired. Chris’ ability to deliver such a charismatic flow and be spitting really good songs over incredibly dope instrumentation (produced by himself,) leaves me a little amazed.
After Kazee.Queen and Chris really did their thing, we got a super enchanting performance by David Shabani. It was a very smooth transition when we got Shabani on stage. He was very charismatic, using the stage as one of his best assets. As soon as he started performing his set, he had a very urban hip hop sound and got the audience feeling really ready to start dancing in their chairs. He made it very apparent that his album was at the main focus of tonight’s set because he had a very professional set-up of all his merch right to the side of him. The album that was heavily featured was called IFGRN, and certainly shows that this man has range. He took us all the way from contemplative, conscious experiences to hype, all the way back to vibing out real smooth talking about relationships and life generalities. I loved his set and his sound made the venue interested in seeing a smooth brother doing his thing. I know he’s from Dallas, but he is definitely one of the artists that need to find their way back to San Marcos.
The last, but certainly not least, was Grid Squid. After all coming together, there was an addition to Chris and Kazee, Joy and Troy. Their set was absolute fire. I feel like they were that unexpected special performance that everyone gushed over. They came into their performance with this paramount chemistry. The audience didn’t feel left out either. Grid Squid was so comfortable with themselves together as a group, that they definitely drew the audience in as well. We had Emcee’s, Chris, Kazee and Troy really putting their all into the performance. It didn’t matter how tired or sweaty you were at the time, you were definitely ready to either sing along, jump up and rap with them or start dancing in some fashion. Their performance was absolutely beautiful and I should stress that they need to be included in more special events like MR Fest.