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What: Asheville Freestyle Formulators Presents “Get Open” w/Foundasia

Where: Emerald Lounge

When: Saturday, Feb. 21

Outside the Emerald Lounge, the night is bitter cold.

“I’m not an MC, I’m just the host,” insists Ebanflo, his breath turning to white mist.

In his world, being an MC dictates certain expectations. And even though he’d been freestyle rapping only moments before for the tiny crowd, Ebanflo is still adamant about his terminology. To him, apparently, being an MC means something more than standing at the mic and carrying the audience through the show, and more than being a part-time rhyme-flinger.

Being an MC is a heavy badge that Ebanflo just isn’t interested in wearing tonight.

Maybe because the show he’s hosting, not even yet begun, is already losing steam — and fast. Even by Asheville standards, things are starting late. It’s past midnight, and barring a cursory sound check, not much has happened to justify the $3 cover.

Tonight was supposed to be Asheville Freestyle Formulators‘ rap and hip-hop version of an open mic — something they’ve termed, simply, “Get Open.” Instead, it’s just been a lot of waiting.

This piece of Asheville’s hip-hop scene is strange to view from the outside. No bling-draped thugs, just dreadlocked college kids, bearded street poets and a collection of other urban hipsters and hangers-on. They take their stylistic cues from trail-blazing hippie-hop groups like GFE, spouting rhymes about love, positive vibes and universal harmony while trying to find clever ways of working in rap’s classic sub-themes of wild sex and massive ganja intake.

Ebanflo has been covering the hosting duties tonight for an absent Adam Strange, and all evening, he’s been loosely keeping toward the front of the stage. There hasn’t been a lot to do in the hosting department, what with no performers showing up and the crowd seemingly content to hang around the bar and talk loudly over whatever music the DJ of the moment sees fit to play. Mostly, Ebanflo has just been hanging out, socializing in between brief runs at the dance floor.

Only moments before, in fact, he’d been wildly break-dancing to one of the DJ’s mixes, spinning into a tight axis that ended with a single wrist supporting, for a few stalled seconds, the whole weight of his wiry frame. The smallish crowd watched with interest, but no one else rose to take on Ebanflo’s B-boy challenge. Like me, they just sat around in the dim lighting and waited for something else noteworthy to happen.

By the evening’s end, only a handful of rappers had taken the stage for the open mic, their performances largely loose and forgettable. The full weight of generating the evening’s entertainment was left to the show’s “special guests,” Kimi Leger and Klose, the local female hip-hop duo known as Foundasia. Backed by the energetic presence of Asheville-based mix maestro DJ Football, the pair put on a show well worth the modest cover.

Klose and Leger’s voices both exude a soft, almost-innocent quality. Instead of focusing on the aggressive and percussive side of rap, Foundasia instead create a more relaxed, withdrawn R&B groove that tonight aptly fits the crowd’s already withdrawn mood.

But instead of trading off lyrics to showcase their individual vocal styles, or even tricking their rhymes against the beat to provide a rhythmic syncopation, Leger and Klose opt instead to rap their lyrics on top of one another’s. When it works, the two create a kind of muted polyphony; when it doesn’t, their rhymes are muddy and unintelligible.

Where Foundasia succeeds outright, however, is in creating a tangible, mellow-hip-hop vibe in the formerly vibe-less room. For what amounts to a pickup show by a still-developing group at a local open mic, that’s not such a shoddy accomplishment.

From his vantage point alongside the stage, Ebanflo watches.

“We just like doing our thing,” he’d told me earlier, back when the room was all but empty, and the show threatened to be a total washout. “It works for us, and it makes us feel good, and we’re not going to stop.”

For more information about Klose, and to listen to tracks by DJ Football, visit www.djfootball.com.

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