Nite Owl | Return of the Real Emcee

prof_nite_sm"When people leave tonight, I want them to be able to say they had a good time and enjoyed the show," Nite Owl says. "Especially my set."

 

 

 

The Set-Up

It's shortly before 6 p.m. on New Year's Eve and hip-hop artist Nite Owl is prepping for that night's live performance as part of the Loop's Underground Special Edition NYE Concert at Blueberry Hill's famed Duck Room. The Select Records recording artist is calm in his approach for sound check, even joking around with members of 40 Til' Five and Fu Fups—two of the opening acts on the NYE bill—as the grizzled Duck Room sound man untangles a horde of wires, speakers, microphones, amps, and lights. It's organized chaos at its best.

An intensely burning inferno is seething within the former college football star, symbolizing the competitive streak embedded deep in his soul from years of athletic competition at Ladue High, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Okla., and Missouri Southern and Central Missouri State Universities. Nite Owl wants the night to go flawlessly and he arrives some six hours before show time to ensure the proper stage setup.

"They [Loop Underground promoters and Duck Room engineers] pretty much know what they're doing, but I've got to make sure things are set up they way I need them to be," Nite Owl explains of his early evening arrival. Although his has done countless live gigs since returning to St. Louis this past August from Radio One on-air jobs in Atlanta and Augusta, South Carolina, Nite Owl leaves nothing to chance. He knows exactly the right configuration for the four-piece band he will have onstage to accompany his set; call it a small dose of asinine over-planning. Either way, it's an effective trait for the rap artist born LaMore Kenton Maclin. "That's just how I am," Nite Owl adds. "I know how I want things to go and I've got to make sure they go according to the plan."

Other members of Team Nitro—band members, backup singers, a deejay, guest-star emcees, PR and marketing reps, and business-savvy assistants—arrive between the 6-to-6:30 timeframe that Nite Owl had previously set for sound check appearances. The talented wordsmith wants to make sure all involved in the NYE presentation receive the purple VIP waistbands Loop Underground promoters have provided. The last thing he needs, Nite Owl says, is for the overambitious doorman to deny entry to any member of his team. "We're trying to put on a good show and we don't have time for no B.S. tonight," he says diplomatically.

Almost on cue, Nitro's tour deejay—DJ K-Nine—is summoned for an emergency family matter that will render his time and skills on the Ones and Twos New Year's Eve night useless. Family is important to the single (without kids) rhyme-slayer, so he's not mad at K-Nine for tending to family relations. His craft, however, is more important than many other things in his life.

"This [being an emcee] is my life; this is what I do," Nite Owl says upon finding out about his deejay's plight. "Ain't nothing about to stop me from doing what I came here to do." Besides, Nite Owl, adds, that's the perks of having a live band. The vinyl spin-master is just an added bonus. "We're just gonna keep it moving and let it do what it do."

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The Show

Shortly after 9:30 p.m., a cooler-than-ice Caucasian rapper named Dugholes opens the show, as the pre-2007 Blueberry Hill crowd makes its push toward Joe Edwards' lower bowels. The Duck Room is actually smaller than its larger-than-life namesake—rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry and his signature dance/walk—would have you to believe. The quaint and dingy aesthetics of the space has a certain charm to it and Nite Owl feels blessed to grace the stage where so many musical legends have played before him.

"I'm just conditioning myself to be able to perform live at any place in the world," Nite Owl says. "Being on a national label, who knows where I may end up having to perform. I gotta be able to handle any venue out there and keep it moving."

After Dugholes' set—which included a hilarious "Fuck John Mayer" reference—the Fu Fups trio hit the stage. Their soulful, harmonizing, sex-themed tunes play well to the slithering, drunken crowd. Nite Owl returns from a quick trip home (wardrobe change) just before underground rap legend Jai Davis and his 4 Sale but Not 4 Sale crew go on and that hard-nosed competitive streak is alive and well. Nitro's no fool; he's aware that many in the crowd are at the Duck Room to support the other acts, but is undeterred nevertheless. He looks at it like one of those old Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) football games back at MSSU and CMSU.

"When people leave tonight, I want them to be able to say they had a good time and enjoyed the show," Nite Owl says. "Especially my set."

The Performance

Jai Davis and crew are not an easy act to follow. After Davis' sister and Committee member Toyy wraps up the 4 Sale but Not 4 Sale set with another one of her stirring performances, Nite Owl and Team Nitro are primed. Congregating in a backstage meeting room slightly before midnight, the collective—backup singer Isis M. Jones, rappers Bee and Lyfestile of Plan B and Altered St8's of Consciousness, band members David A.N. Jackson (percussion), Byron Hayes (drums), C-Flow (lead guitar), and Jesse James (keyboard)—huddle for last-minute insight. DJ Trog of 4 Sale will stand in for K-Nine, Nite Owl informs. A celebratory champagne toast from the entire crowd precedes Team Nitro's appearance, appropriately ushering in a new year. After introducing bits and pieces of songs from his personal catalog, Nite Owl has the crowd salivating for more of the classic hip-hop sound he brings to the table.

Following the impromptu lead of the band, Nite Owl breaks into full master of ceremonies mode, dictating pace and crowd participation. He uses a bevy of hip-hop related chants ("the roof's on fire," "party of here, bump them over there," etc.) and classic bars to engage the crowd and then delivers another frenzied snippet performance that has the crowd cooing. Isis Jones' background vocals are on point, Bee is masterful, Lyfestile shows his professional hip-hop grace, and the four-piece band jams, solidifying the critical praise heaped on Nite Owl and Team Nitro's live show performances the last few months.

"I just want to thank all of ya'll for coming out and supporting the cause," Nite Owl enthusiastically tells the crowd. "Ya'll have a safe and Happy New Year and be sure to comp my latest album, Now You Can Boo Me."

After the Show

Nite Owl mills about shortly after the Duck Room's crowd has dispersed. After-show details include signing CDs and t-shirts, collecting performance fees, dispensing said fees to band members, and politicking with the powers that be for future appearances at Blueberry Hill. It's shortly after 1:30 a.m. and the night is still young. A plethora of St. Louis-area watering holes are still immersed in New Year revelry and Nitro's contemplating his next move for the night. Isis Jones wants to know where he's headed, and so does another member of Team Nitro. Before long, the crew is out the back door, headed their separate ways. Nite Owl is extremely pleased with the show, and he calls every member of Team Nitro on his mobile phone to express gratitude for their blazing set and to remind Bee and Isis to call him when they have reached their desired NYE destination.

"Man, we killed it tonight," Nite Owl says, eschewing the late-night life for a return trip home. The day was long, the night longer, and Nitro wants to call it a wrap. "But it don't stop now; the year is just getting started." | Toriano L. Porter

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