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The Lique Rock the Mic at Art Boutiki

In Music
DEEP ROOTS: The Lique keep things real with a live band and a penchant for golden-era hip-hop.

DEEP ROOTS: The Lique keep things real with a live band and a penchant for golden-era hip-hop.

As a genre, hip-hop is all about taking the past and pushing it into the future. It’s about the meshing of sounds together. Before his untimely passing earlier this year, A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg summed it up succinctly in an interview with the blog I Am Hip Hop: “If you can fit a Coltrane loop, or a Miles Davis loop, it’s gonna mesh as long as you put in the work,” he says in the video. “As long as it meshes, it’s all good.”

Democracy works under a similar logic. It is the meshing together of disparate elements into a single entity that previously didn’t exist. Enter: Las Vegas group The Lique. Their most recent album, Democracy Manifest, blurs the lines between hip-hop, jazz, and (on occasion) rock music, forming a mixture that is indebted to the history of 20th century music without quite being any of its genres.

Like The Roots before them, The Lique are a live band hip-hop ensemble. Lead emcee Rasar Amani takes central stage during a good amount of Democracy Manifest’s 10 tracks, but what sets The Lique apart from many of their peers is just how much their frontman is only one facet of the whole musical experience. With extended improvisational passages from all of the musicians, and improv flourishes bubbling up beneath Amani’s rhymes, The Lique are certainly a band—not merely a vehicle for Amani’s flow. Even the cover of the record, with its modernist artwork and large font size, is a fairly clear nod to the iconic Ornette Coleman sleeves of the ’60s and the birth of free jazz.

As an emcee, Rasar has a similar style to backpack rappers like Sage Francis and Atmosphere, with his relentless flow of words, mic confidence and sometimes breathless delivery. And though the group’s lyrics are often aimed at social issues—media bias, the oligarchic 1 percent and colonialist wars—there is also a playful thread that runs through The Lique’s music. For example, the ’60s theme-song referencing “Batman,” and the groan-inducing jazz-pun “Billie’s Holiday.” Both are a reminder that no matter how much rapping is taking place, The Lique are clearly a bunch of band-nerds at heart.

It might sound a bit like a strange mix—rapping over jazz musicianship, social politics alongside hokey superhero songs—but The Lique manage to make it mesh. And in the words of Phife Dawg, as long as it meshes, it’s all good.

The Lique
Sep 29, 7:30pm, $10
Art Boutiki, San Jose

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