The Dean's List Schools Syracuse

Review: The Dean's List and OnCue light up Westcott Theater with live-band hip-hop

The Pledge to Rage tour hit Syracuse on Thursday with acts The Dean’s List and OnCue in what appears to be a niche subset of rap music. Call it the Asher Roth-effect, but everyone at this concert happened to be male, white and high school or college-aged. Of the handful of girls there, most were being toted in by their guy friends. The whole theater seemed to be filled with graphic tees, hoodies and fitted caps, worn even by the performers.

And the performers went hard. The main acts didn’t go on until about 11 p.m., which meant three hours of opening acts.

It was a long three hours. The music wasn’t bad, but taken in the context of a near-empty theater it was pretty dismal. Rapping about the usual things like getting women, drugs and alcohol, all seemed a little inauthentic when no one was listening.

OnCue was the first main performer. As a white rapper, he’s immediately compared to Eminem. The comparison fails to hold up, which just shows how much the industry has expanded since Eminem started rapping.  His songs include samples of “1234” by Feist and “Crash” by Dave Matthews Band: seemingly awkward choices, but they at least fit the context.

Unfortunately, he had a sore throat. It didn’t ruin the show, but everyone in the audience could hear the pain.

The Dean’s List was on another level. The Boston-based band is comprised of lead rapper Sonny Shotz, and  producers DJ Mendoza and Mike Beats. The producers are Berklee College of Music dropouts, and their education showed in the high fidelity of the sound and multi-layered performance.

But their live band brought the heat. The Dean’s List had a bassist and drummer, which filled out their traditional hip-hop sound. The energy in the room completely changed when The Dean’s List began.

The enigmatic Sonny Shotz commanded the room in a way the previous emcee hadn’t. When he asked the audience to shout, “F–  It, I’m Young” they did. When he asked them to jump, they jumped. Though the crowd was small, maybe only 50 people, he sent them into hysteria.

The set list was quick, but they’re just starting out anyway. One notable song, ‘The People,” included a brilliant remix of Empire of the Sun’s “We Are the People.”

Their crowd was small and their performance was quick, but it’s impressive that they even played their own show. It’s a testament to the Internet Age that this up-and-coming band has been able to gain notoriety from free downloadable mixtapes, enough to sell tickets far from home. Rather than ride the coattails of another rapper, like Justin Bieber or any of Wiz Khalifa’s posse, they do their own thing.

Video shot/directed by Josh Frackleton
Assisted by Ashley Collman

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