Seated on a planter outside of Shiner’s, a venerable institution for working-class diversions near Greensboro’s Guilford College, Ed E. Ruger spots one of the performers on the massive lineup for Music For Meals, his annual fundraiser.
With his three daughters in tow, the rapper Nas-T threads through the crowd of families enjoying a bounce house and cornhole on this resplendent Saturday afternoon.
“They’re gonna steal the show,” Ruger predicts. “Watch out.”
The annual fundraiser, which hit its 5-year anniversary, is an ecumenical affair building out of Ruger’s tireless efforts as primary convener in the Greensboro hip-hop scene. But the 20 acts on the lineup transcend hip hop, also encompassing rock, metal, poetry and even drag comedy. Greensboro Pride is tabling at the event, and Ruger notes that he’ll be performing at Pride’s annual celebration, in September.
“I love those guys,” he says. “They’ve always taken me in as an ally.”
As for the something-for-everyone approach to booking the event, Ruger’s operating on the assumption that diversity will maximize donations, and a pool table at the end of the bar piled high with canned goods and other nonperishables inside indicates that he’s right.
The donated goods are going to Out of the Garden Project, a local nonprofit that provides food assistance to families in Guilford County. Ruger says he became aware that hunger was a problem shortly after his daughter finished kindergarten.
“She said, ‘I want to go see my friends at school,’” he recalls. “We said, ‘It’s summertime, honey. Your friends aren’t going to be at school.’ We didn’t realize that the schools provide meals to kids in the summertime because families can’t afford to buy food.”
The early start time at 4 p.m., as Ruger notes, allows the event to capture parents with kids who might not ordinarily come out for a music event.
Buoyed by frenetic energy of the instrumental track, Nas-T delivers a couple rap attacks with concise flow and purposeful diction, Nas feigns surprise at Tykiyah, his 11-year-old daughter, standing alongside him onstage, mic in hand a couple songs in.
“Dad, can I rap?” she asks.
The song, “Lemme Think,” was originally a duet between Nas and his sister, but tonight Tykiyah is performing her aunt’s verses with poise and crisp enunciation.
“They say I’m a good father,” Nas raps. “But I know I gotta go harder.”
At the conclusion of the song, Nas says, “Your sisters gonna do something too? I’ll get off the stage.”
T’Yauna, 8, and Tymeira, 5, troop onto the stage, and they perform a song the whole family wrote together, with Tykiyah carrying most of the lyrical weight.
“I am a straight-A student, that means I am at school,” she raps in “Sistaz.” “Everybody wants to know me, I guess I am so cool/ My parents come and get me if I don’t play by the rules.”
By 9 p.m., the families with children have largely filtered out and a more hyped crowd with mixed drinks and beers is filling into the space in front of the stage, although the regular drinkers at the bar passing the stage to get to the restrooms remain a constant.
The lyrics get more hard-edged and blunt, the delivery more aggressive as the adult segment of the show takes shape, with two emcees both representing Greensboro’s Southside drawing maximum crowd respect and energy.
“They say sticks and stones are bound to break bones,” goes the hook in one of Miik Deaux’s newest Soundcloud tracks. “One thing about these streets, they gon’ always be cold.”
At the end of the set, Miik’s sister, the rapper Mazeratii, comes onstage. Released under Mazeratii’s name, the song features Miika and details the siblings’ experience growing up in a household challenged by addiction and domestic violence.
A subsequent set by Indo Da Diva amps the crowd even higher with material that plays on similar themes of personal respect and pride of place. A good portion of the words in “Southside in Dis B****” aren’t fit to print in this publication: “N****, act like you know what’s a mothaf****/ Southside in dis b****/ I ain’t got time for hate, I’m just trying to get filthy rich/ Don’t ride on my ass cos it’ll get reckless up in dis b****/ Yeah, Indo she da s***/ Rule number one: don’t never f*** with my kids/ Cos I got some n***** that’ll body-bag ya/ One phone call, know what it is/ My team, we don’t play no games/ When it comes to the fam, we handle our biz/ You gonna f*** around and get choked/ Cos you b****es take me for a joke?”
As a hip-hop artist, Ruger’s strength as a talent booker naturally falls in his native idiom, and Indo is his trump card tonight. He pronounces himself pleased with the turnout and reception after Indo’s set. Although he’s got plenty of bragging rights, with his ninth album due for release in October and songs placed on “Breaking Bad” and “Boondocks,” Ruger’s not one to hog the limelight. He says he booked Indo for a show at Arizona Pete’s once and she showed up in a “Beyonce one-piece outfit” with a full band. Her flow was so fierce that Ruger decided that from then on he wouldn’t be following her on stage.
True to form, he cuts his own set — bracketed between Miik and Indo — short since the show is behind schedule.
Ruger and his longtime music partner DJ Phillie Phresh blaze through two songs from their dubstep album, released last year under the name Dub-Boro. “What They Talkin Bout” (“Y’all see what Phillie do to the speakers/ Keep bumpin’ all night like tweakers/ Gon’ pass that s*** to the leakers/ S***’s dope, start heatin’ up the beakers/ Narcoleptics keep on sleepin’/ While the price go up on the features/ Raise the bar too high for y’all to reach it/ Try to ride the wave, you get seasick”) and “Watzhapnen” that highlight the mad-chemist quality of Phillie’s mixology.
Around 11:30 p.m., there’s a noticeable ebb in the energy, likely a function of the event’s long running time and much of the hip-hop crowd clearing out during a lengthy set-up for a rock band. As the death-metal band Chaos Ensues deploys its elaborate stage set, Ruger sneaks in an extra two songs that showcase longtime cohort Ty Bru. The partner emcees dust off two tracks from Ty Bru’s 2007 album On the Brink; Ty has been discretely handing out copies of the 10th anniversary deluxe edition over the course of the evening. Ruger encourages the metal band to keep setting up while they perform. It’s a small gesture of solidarity to tie the two scenes together. And when they finish, Ty salutes, “Now we goin’ to the hard, hard rock” as Phillie drops a grindcore track.
Chaos Ensues, who hail from Winston-Salem, slays. And they draw envy from Ruger, who admires their massive banner and mic stand festooned with gory mannequin heads. Artful filigree, crushing riffs, and machine-gun beats lays a sonic field for the band’s vocalist, known as PsYcHo, whose rumbling basso resembles a turtle mic-ed through a Marshall PA. With indiscriminately offensive material celebrating the murder of both pedophiles and priests, they don’t bow to any tender sensibilities.
But PsYcHo also thanks the organizers and the fans who built the tower of canned goods on the pool table.
And as much to the subdued drinkers in the back as the handful of headbangers in front of the stage, PsYcHo says, “You’re too kind, you’re too kind.”