Neema: The Cigar Room Tour | Barboza | Sunday, March 15, 2015
By Emery Desper.
It takes a lot for me to go out on a Sunday night, especially when its pouring rain outside and I’ve had a long a weekend. So, needless to say, I was expecting to be either impressed by Neema or wildly disappointed, but somehow I managed to leave my house well past 8 pm on the first day of this week. Once he finally hit the stage at Capitol Hill’s Barboza — after what can only be described as an “interesting” list of opening acts that mostly performed a mix of trap and sing-song rap — I was happy to have postponed my granny swag to see the Kenmore MC command a venue for what was my first time.
I love it when my first encounter with a musician is live and without any prior knowledge of what they can bring to the table. The element of surprise is so often lost in this digital world of ours, so as a true rap fan I live for those moments when someone impresses me. Sunday was that day.
Opening his set with a party anthem claiming “his hustle is so exquisite,” I had to agree. It’s not that Neema is reinventing the rap wheel in terms of subject matter, but what stands out about him is that he has mastered what can only be described as the “rap success formula.” Every rhyme I heard Neema spit made me seriously wonder why he was not on the radio getting major spins. He has the unique ability to rap well and make subjects that could be deemed a bit frivolous sound important.
As soon as Neema made it through his first few songs, I began thinking to myself that he was like a mash-up of Jadakiss and Pitbull — if Pitbull were actually good at making music, that is. For whatever reason I kept reminiscing about my time spent living in New York City, and every time Neema rapped a well-crafted verse, it made me forget I was in Seattle. I’m not sure if I could get away with characterizing his sound as East Coast, per se, but for those of you that miss a time when rappers like Fabolous had hits and instead feel like you’re settling for the mediocre bounce of 2 Chainz, you might find some real solace with Neema.
I think the fact that he was wearing a shirt with the text “#Rare” was fitting. It is rare to see an underground rapper who actually masters the delicate balance of MC ability and radio appeal so well. Although Neema’s set was short, every song he performed could have played in rotation on a mainstream rap club night for the sole purpose of getting people onto the dance floor.
I don’t want to overshadow his technical ability, or how good his voice sounds by focusing on his potential mass-marketability but I do think it’s important to consider that dimension. Seattle has a wide range of hip-hop talent, but most of my favorite Town rappers sound more like artists who would flourish at South by Southwest, not on heavy rotation at KUBE 93. It takes all types for the genre to stay interesting in this city, I say.
One of the particular highlights of Neema’s set was his collaboration with singer Latin Rose. Her voice is killer and if you need some quality R&B in your life I would suggest looking her up. Their sexy “White Dresses and Cigarettes” was a catchy duet. Usually I frown upon the rappers-with-singers-feature trope; it’s often overwrought. But this particular song worked and sounded great.
All-in-all, Neema is someone you should have on your radar, especially if you like to party. His performance was impressive for many reasons but the main takeaway is that his music is solid and he seems to have honed in on something bankable. I could see it lasting for a while.