Collaborations have an ugly tendency to turn into steel-cage death matches between rampaging egos, but when this Minneapolis hip-hop duo is on top of its game, the two of them don't so much as step on each other's toes. MC and lyricist Eyedea, who won the Scribble Jam in 1999 and the Blaze Battle in 2000, clowns a little too much for my taste, but he's intelligent and articulate, with speed like Twista and an ingratiating nasal tone; turntablist Abilities, a two-time DMC regional champion, contributes low-to-the-ground old-school beats and maniacally focused scratching. I never get tired of their favorite trick: Eyedea delivers a lyric, Abilities imitates its cadence with scratching, and then the two of them hit the next line together, the turntable following the vocals syllable for syllable. The duo's latest, E&A (Rhymesayers/Epitaph), sounds great when they both go balls out. But it falls flat when they hold back or stray out of their comfort zone: "Man vs. Ape" hangs throat-cancer vocals over clomping cold-cement beats, with lyrics that are supposed to make us think about our selfishness as a species, but good intentions can't keep the track from sounding juvenile. Elsewhere Eyedea's well-worn topics include the superiority of hard-earned skills over chest-thumping, the virtues of keeping shit real, and the ups and downs of relationships with those of the estrogen persuasion (at least he can talk about women without sounding pathetic, even if he does come back to the subject too often). Maybe I'm spoiled, but I expect some killer zingers from a battle champ. Blueprint, Mass Hysteria, and Grayskul open. 18+. Wednesday, May 26, 8 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408 or 866-777-8932.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Monick.