Ron Obasi at The End | A Stylistically Transcendent Display of the Real Nashville in Collaboration
Evan Dale & Alberto Aliaga // September 7, 2023
There’s movement on the West side of Nashville. Removed from the insanity that is Broadway, there is movement — authentically — in most peripheral orbits of the city. But down on West End Ave, not far removed from Vanderbilt and Belmont, a youthful layer of grime — still glistening with the light of neon signs — provides something authentic for Nashvillians themselves, rather than for those who use and abuse the city’s immense, central tourist trap. And because of Nashville’s young yet established, creatively driven populations in the wings of the city, the venues here in particular — the historic Exit In and The End — shine with an organic, homegrown sheen. And that identity is one blossoming evermore with wide ranging diversity and experimentation in its art, tethered to the musical engine of the city.
The floor is sticky with spilled drinks. The bathroom walls are covered floor to ceiling in stickers. The bar serves only cans. The stage is about 18 inches above the main floor, and another 18 inches below an elevated step up to the side. The End is one of those venues. And those venues tend to exhibit the true nature of a place — and an artist.
A week-and-a-half ago, one show in particular spoke to the quickly changing, stereotype defying, ultimately collaborative stance that makes the real Nashville a breath of fresh air compared to cities with less youthful, creatively driven populations. Ron Obasi — a steady leader in a rising Nashville hip-hop scene that is as defined by a simultaneous attachment to lyricism and instrumentation, as it is to Southern bass and candy paint — shared the same stage with Mercury — a local indie rock band boasting an adherent Gen-Z fanbase, and Prince of Eden — a sandal-touting, guitar plucking folkster spouting story-driven acoustics.
In so many ways, the creative infrastructure of Nashville is built-in. Longstanding as the country capital of music, recording studios and labels have made it a musical haven, albeit only for one musical space. And yet, largely to thank for that local, pervasive hip-hop spectrum, on which Ron Obasi stands tall; and because of an equally local scene of youngsters pushing their brands of angsty indie rock to the youth, anti-establishment against the pop-country industrial complex, Nashville’s infrastructure is being forever more permeated by an increasingly wide range of artists that actually call home to the city. Banding together, on stage at The End — one of Nashville’s most storied, authentic venues — the city’s artists are breaking boundaries and climbing increasingly towards something bigger and better.
Ron Obasi has long been leading that charge. He’s always been a poet for the people. His deep-thinking lyricism projects across gruff vocal cords, tethering his musings on the astral plane to high-intensity sermons on reality and the fight not only to persevere, but to grow. And on stage, at The End, along with a band of talented musicians — including hometown saxophonist AyyWillé, who finds his brass beamed into so much of the jazz-rooted rap in the city — Obasi connects authentically with the crowd, a majority of which came to see the folksie, indie aesthetics that would follow his performance. Because of those groups, the room was filled to the back wall. But because of Ron Obasi, they committed themselves fully stageward for the night.
It didn’t take long. A practiced professional in the booth and on stage, Obasi commands attention from anyone listening. And here, mixing the organic instrumentation of his band into the lyrically pervasive nature of his brand of Southern, story-driven hip-hop, he found a connection not only with those who he could physically interact with in the front row, but everyone else, too, who could hear his thought-provoking poeticism and bass-thumping hooks anywhere at The End that night.
His set spoke at depth to the wide-ranging nature of the real Nashville. It’s not the bridal showers, country bars, or party busses, but rather the indie bands, the art school students, and perhaps most of all, the constantly expanding hip-hop scene — boiling over with some of the most talented rappers, producers, instrumentalists, vocalists, and performers anywhere in the Music City; anywhere, period — that make for the most authentically Nashville nights. And of them, Ron Obasi at The End — collaborating with artists outside of his stylistic spectrum, but still within the reality of his city walls — was particularly special, and speaks to a still expanding future for Nashville’s emerging undergrounds.