A text message read an invitation to a house party in Friendship, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh's East End. The Snapchat geo-tag for the area near Bloomfield depicts a bed of flowers with "Bloomfield" text, a nice compliment to the section of the city described on Wikipedia as "a neighborhood of large Victorian houses."
At the gate leading to a green yard with a tree house tucked in a corner, I was charged $5 for entry. Completely unfamiliar with the artists about to perform, I looked puzzled at the young man at the door who referred to himself as Dutch Master, or Flying Dutchman something like that. He stared back at me and nodded his head as if to say, "do you want in or not?" With a couple of friends already inside, I gave him my five.
People gathered around and in the modest, Lincoln Log-like tree house. I met up with Amani Davis and Hannibal Hopson, students of knowledge and artists working in Pittsburgh. Amani's younger brother, Keanu, produced the musical project everybody would eventually hear, which is the reason all were there. "You two are the biggest Internet niggas I know," Amani said as he introduced me to his brother.
Thanks to the Internet, specifically SoundCloud, and loyal friends, Eight by Two, a rap collective, hosted a house party to unveil and share their debut project, "Bedouin."
Too many people were wandering around the yard and coming in and out to smoke. A person warned the partygoers, "the homeowners are inside and they are getting upset." The house party was one of those types you throw the summer after you graduate high school and your parents chaperone as you practice for college life to come. The parental guidance, however, did not disrupt or takeaway everyone's energy and excitement for Eight by Two's performance.
"We're about to start! Everyone go to the basement," Wathan, the Eight by Two cameraman, yelled.
Down a steep flight of cement steps, 30 people strong huddled in the muggy, dark cellar. There was red mood light, consistent flashes from people's iPhones, and a white sheet hung from the back wall with video of various landscapes passing by like out of a car window.
Shabazz of Eight by Two opened the set. He asked for a moment of silence to pay respect to those who have lost their lives to senseless racial violence. "I'm going to turn all this negative energy into something positive for my performance," he said.
The volume was not at its peak, and some white noise came from the speakers maybe due to poor wiring. "Turn it up," the crowd shouted.
8x2 got through the first track fine and cranked the volume. In each song they performed, the bass hit heavily. The group rapped over their playback so the audience could get familiar with the new music. Their concert doubled as a listening party for their latest extended play.
Then the title track came on, "Bedouin." Jono, a rapper in the crew, removed his shirt, and his partners followed suit. Shabazz removed his do-rag to show his crisp cornrows. All of 8x2 was jumping up and down, shouting the lyrics, pausing for breath, and sweatily bopping through the packed crowd in the nearly cramped space.
Their music is at times introspective, menacing, stylish, and thrilling. "Sets down in the basement, fuck your playlist my shit banging, with my crew you best behave from 'less a clip neck is what you craving," they rap in "Part 2 (Best Ever)." "Pray I make it out of this high tonight, yeah hope that I'm gon' wake up alive, if 12 pull up know I'm down to hide," are some lyrics of Eight by Two's song "No Plan."
People were most active when the upbeat "Henne Man" came on. "Why you won't sip you some Henn? I got that shit tell me when" as a bottle of Hennessy was raised high to the ceiling. Listeners enjoyed the song so much that they encored Eight by Two into playing it again.
The group's talent and people's reaction to the music surprised me and caught others off guard. We were impressed at the live quality of 8x2 because up to that point their work existed on a computer on SoundCloud. "All of this was on the Internet, but we just heard it live," Angelo, an audience member, said after the show.
But, witnessing Eight by Two perform gives greater appreciation to the music once you hear it on a mobile listening device.
Give "Bedouin" a play below and follow the rappers on SoundCloud here.