by Petula Caesar
Author’s note: I haven’t written anything about Baltimore music (or anything for that matter) for a while, for a lot of reasons. But all the reasons added up to the worst case of writer’s block I’ve had in some time. But Kane Mayfield’s show this past Friday night put a significant crack in that block. And the next day, driving around Baltimore bumping “Return of Rap” and “Return to Sender” (a collection of Kane’s previously unreleased work that was also sold at the show), and then a long late night conversation with the man himself make the rest of my writer’s block crumble. So enjoy my return to writing by reading my review of “Return of Rap: Act II” the show as well as my review of the CD, which is why this piece is so long. But trust me, it’s worth it.
Kane Mayfield has been in this city for ten years now. I guess I should say “had been” now. Originally from Long Island, he has navigated Baltimore’s strangely cliquish and disjointed hip hop scenes with a combination of humility, humor, hip hop braggadocio and of course, sharp, smoking hot bars. He always stood out, and was initially viewed with the suspicion and derision most hometown Baltimoreans view transplants. But his talent and the buzz he was creating was undeniable, even though he didn’t know Baltimoreans put furniture in the street during snowstorms to save the parking spots they dug out, so when he first got here he actually took that furniture home, thinking it had been abandoned. (Yes he returned the furniture.) From his early days at Mania Music Group as part of a rap trio, to his extremely reluctant break-out as a solo artist, Mayfield’s journey has not been a straight line by any means (Hidden track 18 on “The Return of Rap” includes a sample will give you food for thought about straight lines). But as he is quick to say, “Dwayne Lawson (a key member of the Mania Music team whom he constantly gives props and praise) saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself.”
The success of “The Return of Rap: Act II” show did not materialize out of thin air. It was the culmination of a decade of fan base building by releasing a lot of free music (I’m personally a HUGE fan of “Rhymes By Kane Thievery Corporation Edition”), performing in shows as a feature, hosting, hitting cyphers, and just being his gregarious self on social media. Some of his Facebook rants are legendary, and even earned him the attention of national brands like Backwoods Cigars, who selected him as a social media influencer alongside A.S.A.P. Ant. He has managed to gain traction in independent music by taking the time to organically create and embody a brand, which is simply his talent and personality turned up full blast. He has made good use of the media connections he’s gained over the years. He has the gift of gab in spades, making even his most offensive comments hilariously palpable. He has performed with legendary hip hop artists who have created legacies with their music, not just hits. He has managed all this without some of the more ubiquitous trappings many independent artists insist are necessary, like “views” on You Tube, endless sub-par mixtapes or 360 record deals. His one man show packed out Metro Gallery TWICE, proving it is possible to pack out a local venue in support of a local artist. He has also made the transition from moving your fan base from free consumption of your product to paying for that product.
“The Return of Rap” as one man show is unusual. Lots of opening acts with varying degrees of skill are status quo for these things. But as Kane explained on The Marc Steiner Show the morning before his show, “my fans want to see me.” He further explained that he wanted to fix everything that was wrong with most rap shows: there won’t be tons of other performances, there is food (and good food at that – shoutout to Ravage Deli, who have Kane to thank for their new influx of customers, and to Cupcake Kay’s for the sinfully delicious cupcakes), there are good drinks, and there are actually women present. Women who love good hip hop, not just the weird groupie DTF kind of chicks who always stand out in an uncomfortable way at hip hop shows. And in spite of all the local media buzz of late about the difficulty of putting together a well-attended show in Baltimore, on Marc Steiner Kane explained you just need to figure out how many people you can get to come out to an event, you rent a venue that holds slightly less than that number of people, “because you always want to put your tablespoon into a teacup, not the other way around,” you put together a show and promote the hell out of it. And for those who claim they can’t get booked in local venues? “If you can’t get a venue to book you, something’s probably wrong with you.”
Kane’s most recent version of his one-man show featured a full band and DJ Harvey Dent. Kane possessed an intensity and a laser focus that had been absent from previous performances, when Kane has seemed more loose and laid back. Perhaps the absence of the nearly 50 pounds from his frame (after a 100 day break from alcohol and meat) was the reason for the increased intensity in his performance energy, but onstage he was absolutely electric. Audience members began showing up promptly at 8 to be sure they got food, and the bartenders at Metro Gallery were quite accommodating – Kane said during his show he specifically asked for the bartenders present because they were heavy handed, and my watermelon margaritas were pleasantly and appropriately strong and flavorful. Kane’s interaction with DJ Harvey Dent during shows is always entertaining (in fact in previous shows when Kane mentions to audiences in jest that Dent has done something to make Kane mess up during his set, audience members actually get mad at Dent). Kane also asks audience members to identify classic hip hop joints when Dent plays slivers of songs to win prizes. What can also be entertaining for the audience when it happens (which it did at the first show) is when a heckler decides he wants to try Kane. Kane does have the extremely quick wit of a classic insult “zinger” comic, so hecklers are quickly embarrassed into low muttering under their breaths which eventually becomes frustrated silence. The crowd got a rap show with great crowd-artist interaction, good showmanship, and the kind of have-a-good-time energy that hip hop shows often lack. “I love it when people turn their back to me to dance while I’m onstage,” Kane says to me during our 2 a.m. conversation (which was more like a mind dump for him, with him doing most of the talking and me listening intently). “I love seeing people have a good time, and I love them having a good time with me.”
“The Return of Rap” on CD is an audio treat – it is crisp and clear without sounding sterile. It is not overproduced. The mixing and mastering is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The CD has a sleekness, polish and fullness that mirrors Kane’s live show. The “sides” that Kane presents satisfy everything a rap fan could want from a project, from deep introspection to fun-loving bangers. Lyrically Kane continues to be a top notch wordsmith able to bring his wordplay to a variety of topics. His songs aren’t for the intellectually underdeveloped unless you’re willing to Google while you listen to get your mental weight up, because dumbing down isn’t Kane’s style. Kane also has a wider and more expansive view of the world than many hip hop artists, as the children of immigrants often have. On track two, a song called “Shoes,” Kane takes on the voice of a store owner who had seen a type of violence in his homeland that matches and/or surpasses Baltimore’s hottest summer days, an embattled place that killed his entire family while all he wanted was to “be safe from the war”. The “Return To Sender” project sold at the show in a small manilla envelope is a 23 track collection of all kinds of Kane Mayfield madness, from a freestyle that you can imagine happening outside The 5 Seasons or The Windup Space late one night to him flowing over all kinds of tracks and R & B samples ranging from Aaliyah to 80s R & B band Surface. Kane’s work in finance in his pre-rap life also widens his perspective on the world because it put him in contact with people in high and low places who all have with a singular goal – the acquisition of lots of money and everything that comes with it, including expensive toys, high quality drugs and easy plentiful sex. All these subjects come up in “Return To Sender” in very interesting and unique ways, and the song featured in “Noisey” last Friday called “Dream Killers” appears on this CD. All in all, Kane and Baltimore have gone as far as they can go together creatively. There aren’t any worlds left for him to conquer here that he is interested in – he was never an artist pursuing radio play as a means to success, and being a big fish in a small pond isn’t his goal. So Kane has packed his bags and headed south to Florida to pursue opportunities he won’t speak on in detail. (When we talked, I told him I thought he was running away to get married, and it was the only time during our conversation that he fell silent.) He mentioned that while he will be traveling a good deal in the upcoming months, he considers Baltimore his home, especially artistically. So Kane moves on with Baltimore in his rear view, though he assures me/us that he’d definitely be back. So until then, in his words on “The Return of Rap’s” track eighteen, “love, peace and lanolin.”