Fresh off of the “Must Be Nice” tour, which included stops in Columbus, Ohio, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Chicago, Philadelphia’s Ground Up hasn’t forgotten where it came from.
The rap trio, which is comprised of MCs Alexander Azar and Malcolm McDowell, better known as Malakai, and producer Bijan Houshiarnejad, known on stage as Bij Lincs, has worked with some notable names in rap including Chiddy Bang, Meek Mill and Rick Ross. On Feb. 22, the group returned to its roots with an appropriately titled “Back to the Basement” show at AEPi.
After being on the road, the concert on Temple’s campus served as a coming home party of sorts. Performing just a few blocks from the house where just over four years ago Ground Up began as a group, the trio wasn’t just playing in its city – it was playing in its neighborhood.
Hanging out in the living room of the fraternity house waiting for their turn to take the stage, Azar, Malakai and Lincs mingled throughout the crowd, taking time to talk to friends and fans alike. As they made their way around the room, and the comfort of being back in their old stomping ground was clear on each of their faces.
This is the third time Ground Up has taken the stage at AEPi, and doing so is something the group members hold close to their hearts, Malakai said.
“We used to play there way back in the day,” Malakai said following the show. “It was like a coming home type thing.”
“It became somewhat of a tradition, it seemed only right to come back here,” Azar added.
As the basement filled with people and Ground Up took the stage, arms reach from the crowd, Malakai addressed the audience. “What is up Philly?” he asked. “It feels good to be home.”
Playing 19 songs that spanned across its 12 mixtapes, Ground Up kept the crowd going with both old and new songs.
For more than an hour, Malakai and Azar worked the stage trading lines over the Lincs-supplied beats. A heavy dose of black lights, strobe lights and the occasional microphone malfunction made the basement experience that much more authentic.
The performance had an almost intimate feel to it, an adjective not commonly associated with rap shows. In between songs Azar and Malakai would interact with the crowd, not so much as performers addressing the audience, but as guys catching up with old friends. Their comfort level seemed higher than it was on the living room couch just an hour earlier.
As the show winded down, they played a few crowd favorites: “Right Back at It” off of their mixtape “The Get Up” and “No Thanks” off of “The Get Down.” After thanking the audience and getting off stage, the three quickly returned, as the crowd demanded an encore. They closed the show out with “Turn Around,” a song from their 2010 mixtape, “Higher Ground.” One of their slower, more melodic tracks, it features a sample of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Good Reason.” It was a fitting song to go out on, as the track, not unlike the concert itself, was a throwback to the group’s earlier days.
After exiting the stage, Lincs, Malakai and Azar hung around to put in some additional face time with the fans and soaked in a little more of the hometown love – something they came to appreciate while on tour.
“There’s nothing like home, and I think that became more clear while we were gone,” Azar said. “There’s nothing like the home field advantage. People know every word, that still blows my mind.”
As the house began to empty, Ground Up made its exit as well. The three headed back to their abode, just a quick ride south of campus, where they met up with friends to celebrate the night’s work.
They spent the remainder of the night making the most of their time with friends, but the home stay was short lived.
In the coming week, the band will make its way to West Virginia University and Springfield, Va., where it will be performing with Freeway. Following those two shows is another brief stop back in Philly to perform with Juelez Santana at The Blockley before heading out on the road again.
For one night, though, they got to enjoy the comforts of home, and the luxury of sleeping in their own beds.
Joe Fricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.