Photo by Hallie O’Neill
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE BY HALLIE O’NEILL
On Friday, Oct. 7, artist OnCue made his first visit to Des Moines with a show at Wooly’s in East Village.
OnCue is a self-proclaimed hip-hop, R&B, and alternative rapper from Brooklyn, New York. After producing three albums since 2010, he’s been touring the U.S. to promote his latest work-in-progress: an album titled Perfectly, Tragically Flawed, which is set to drop next spring.
The doors opened at 7:00 p.m. that night, exactly one hour before the show was set to begin. When I arrived around 7:15, there were only about 10 other people in the small-scale, intimate venue. More people started to show up as the clock ticked closer to 8:00 p.m. and the place actually filled out quite comfortably.
This particular show included not one but three opening acts. First was NONETHELESS, a group of three artists whose style can be described as nothing less than indie nerd rap. Next was Tha Füt, a Des Moines rap duo, and third was ultra-positive rapper B. Well. There was a 20-minute break between each set.
Before the third opener even hit the stage, a majority of the audience was either very drunk or very high, and people visibly started to loosen up. Two young fans even kick-started a dance-off. The mood was upbeat, carefree and energetic. But still, it was already nearing 10:00 p.m. and I still had to get through the third and final opener before OnCue.
During B. Well’s set, the mood changed drastically when two twenty-something women got into a physical fistfight. Though the surrounding fans quickly split them up, the older of the two (and B. Well’s girlfriend, I later found out) ran to the bathroom, seeking the younger girl out. She found her, and all I saw then were arms and fists flying against one of the dingy bathroom stalls. It only took one more brawl—this time, both women fell thrashing to the floor and I had to temporarily leave my seat to escape their treacherous path—for the staff to finally kick the younger one out.
At this point, B. Well was desperately trying to seize back the audience’s now-scattered attention. It was past 10:30 p.m. when he ended his set and a good portion of the crowd had already dissipated and gone home. Exhausted and antsy, I sat alone, still patiently waiting for the act I’d originally come for.
Close to 11:00 p.m., OnCue made his curiously discreet entrance. The remaining crowd members stood scattered at tables, sipping the last of their drinks and checking their watches. Suddenly, a black-clad figure strode onto the stage and dove right into his set. No one expected it. But as soon as they heard OnCue’s steady, stream-of-thought rapping, the people instantly gathered closer to the stage.
His wavy, jet-black hair was swooped to the side and looked sharp and punky with his tight jeans, baggy black tee, and black zip-up jacket. Though he maintained a pretty consistent stone-face throughout the set, his jerky hip gyrations revealed a charismatic looseness.
His set was funky. He included a few 80s pop interludes between songs, including a clip of classic Styx. He smoothly transitioned from intense rap verses to silky streams of mid-range vocals. He sometimes held his microphone up in true Mariah Carey style while he “belted” higher notes.
He continually tried to keep the tired, fading crowd engaged, and he usually succeeded. He constantly had people raising their hands, clapping to the beat, repeating his lyrics back to him, or simply bouncing their arms in sync with his. The set included momentous lead-ins and chest-rumbling bass drops. The “mosh,” though now diminished to a mere three rows of people, truly bumped.
In other moments, specifically when the lyrics clearly meant something special to the rapper, he would simply stand with a foot propped on the front speaker, eyes closed, fully concentrated on the lyrics he was spitting out. His focus and clear love for his music was quite charming.
Though many of his songs are permeated with the typical “sex and weed” tropes—themes that rarely strike me as original—he managed to whip out a few surprises. His song “Feel Tall” references the popular show the Office: “Plan a party now, call it up Angela and Phyllis.”
Other silly but strangely engaging lyrics are found in his song “Cereal,” which he claimed he hadn’t performed in years until his Wooly’s appearance. “Cereal for breakfast, cereal for dinner / When you comin’ up from nothing, that’s the meal of real winners.” In these moments, OnCue brought unexpected quirk to the hip-hop genre, and I found myself digging it.
OnCue put on a pretty solid show considering the train wreck of events leading up to it. Was it worth the nearly three-hour wait? Not really. But would I see him again if the opening acts—and all the entourage drama that came with them—were scaled back a bit? Yes. I probably would.