Mo Better at The Blue Room | A Vibrant Display of the Rise and Range of Nashville’s Emerging Cultural Spheres Continuing to Break Down Walls
Evan Dale // September 1, 2023
Eternally enigmatic, Nashville put on a clinic of its lesser known, but exponentially more interesting musical nuance last week. At The Blue Room — a comfortable venue with curved walls hanging taxidermy and flooded with cool light that allow the space to live up to its name — a collection of rising rappers from the city and the larger South took the stage for a show they called Mo Better. And backstage — a sprawling, retro maze with more taxidermy, hosting Jack White’s Third Man Records’ studio, vinyl pressing, and headquarters — they and their respective crews mingled and connected, continuing to communally grow an emerging scene that digs deep roots into its authenticity and organic, oft-analogue identity. It’s been a hard-fought battle to earn the respect that their lyrically-pervasive, envelope-pushing brand of Southern rap deserves. But in a city known for country music, and in a Southern metro area not named Atlanta, New Orleans, or Miami, here they were, inviting artists from more traditionally sought-after regional locales to a collaborative hip-hop night in Downtown Nashville, at the studio of one of the last generation’s most pervasive rockstars. In more ways than one, Mo Better is proof of concept for a small-market scene on the rise, reaping the benefits of their hard work and continued perseverance, breaking down barriers in the process, and finding themselves in (green)rooms that may have seemed out of reach just a few years ago. More than anything, it’s a testament to the music.
First up, Moody — a vocalist and rapper whose sound alchemises hip-hop and R&B à la T-Pain, but in a way only an even more modern Atlanta experimentalist could muster. His is obvious nod to one of the best to ever do it, silkily floating over synth-drenched beats with a tendency for autotune and privy to the poeticism of the bedroom. Naturally, his performance, too, is sexy. In front of as full band handily turning his beats to a live set, that together made the drive up through Atlanta rush hour to be in Tennessee, Moody delivered a sultry, rangy exhibition of just some of the prolific artist’s recent work, all with a barrage of movement and crowd control to work the room.
Next, Saucyy Slim. The rapper, whose blue hair was almost as form fitting to the venue, as it is to her enigmatic, cool demeanor, took the stage to turn up the energy a bit. Delivering fiery poetics with a fierce smile, Saucyy Slim brought lyrical propensity in tow. With a three-pack of tracks — named The Trio — released that very same morning, hers was a set that introduced many in the crowd not only to her music, but to her very latest. And after the barrage of new songs, she set out on a lengthy, dialed a cappella freestyle, setting up the rest of the evening to be one packed with surprises.
And surprises tend to abound when Nashville native, OGTHAGAWD, takes the stage. The rapper runs in a tight circle, but everyone in that circle — most of whom are family to him — also boast a wide-ranging skillset. Bizzo dropped some verses from a mosaic of recent OG projects, most recently, THE BOOK OF OG and LIFE OF A GHOST 2. JosephFiend - who doubles as a designer, triples as a videographer, and surely quadruples at an array of other creative outlets — pulled up on stage for a few cuts of his own. And prolific videographer and photographer, BeShootin captured the whole thing. When it was all said and done, Funky Tenn had immersed a crowd already hungry for more Mo Better, deep in some homegrown Southern culture.
Which worked seamlessly, because TriplePlay Squeek was up next. Hands down delivering the night’s vivacious zenith, she burned through her set with lightning fast bars an some upturnt, head-banging energy, allowing a release from the audience that had been building through the prior three sets. Finding balance between some theatrical crowd work and the bass-heavy vitality of her canon — which isn’t yet too deep, but seemingly only boasts bangers — Squeek moved through her set with ease, handing it off to the night’s closing name.
Stalwart of the Nashville hip-hop scene - and to a larger Middle Tennessee spectrum bridging Nashville and Chattanooga to the Southern cultural capital that is Atlanta - Brian Brown capped off Mo Better with an expectedly lyrical and energetic set. He’s a veteran, always on a stage somewhere delivering some of the most poetic authenticity anywhere in hip-hop today, so when that happens to be on the stage in front of you, his continued push as an artist and a performer encapsulates the entirety of the room’s attention. Maneuvering through his heavy canon with the nimbleness of a true poet, and the showmanship of a practiced and proven lightning rod, pulling from 2020’s Journey and 2023’s Two Minute Drill, he also introduced the crowd to some unreleased work. A perfect night cap, before he took to the road to perform the next day in Huntsville.
No Better was again just a glimpse into what Nashville’s rap, Hip-Hop, and Soul scene continues to achieve, tethering set to set for hours of wide-ranging, immersive, and downright different music and culture at one of Downtown’s historic venues. Tap into the next one, either in Nashville, or outside of it, as these artists — and myriad others — continue to push the boundaries of their city’s expectations and continue to push their art further into the world.