There are few teenage entrepreneurs who can pull off a slim black suit and tie while playing Ludacris’ What’s Your Fantasy to a small, but growing, crowd of fellow students. The scene takes place at afterHOURS, Northeastern’s on-campus venue, which hosts free shows featuring student performers as well as well-known artists.
Tonight, it’s a laidback vibe, as students take to the coffee tables and watch Ryan Lucht do his thing on stage. Lucht co-founded the beats label HEY WTF last September when he was only a freshman, and is opening for label mate Mike Wagz. The label recently turned to a hip-hop beats only label, showcasing talent from Northeastern students and beyond.
Lucht, a sophomore music industry major, now shifts the gears back in time to grace the crowd with a unique version of A Tribe Called Quest’s Bonita Applebum. It’s an enchanting 90s song that sounds like a snake charmer’s melody mixed with the smooth vocals that only old-school hip-hop can accomplish. Lucht’s set brings together racy lyrics from pop songs past and his own beats, creating an atmosphere that is one part raunchy, one part slick and most definitely intriguing.
After Lucht finishes his set, he introduces Mike Wagz, who manages to bring the crowd to their feet and starts to jam. (Jamming is really the only way to describe the movements one feels compelled to make when listening to Wagz’s smooth beats.)
This is when Wagz’s roommate, Luke Sisselman, takes the stage. I’m somewhat confused, because Sisselman’s performance is not one that was advertised, nor do I know of any musical ability on his part. As he clunks his fine leather shoes to the mic, I realize what he’s doing. Stand-up comedy over hip-hop beats.
Is it going to work? I’m apprehensive.
Sisselman’s fierce delivery convinces the crowd that the ridiculous story he’s telling about a boss with a crippling fear of lobsters is funny. Very funny. He comes on stage a few more times for only a minute or so at a time, reading us tweets from his personal Twitter account or simply manipulating his facial muscles in ways I thought were impossible while making similarly unnatural noises. Even Mike Wagz can’t help but laugh while still mixing his music.
Finally, rapper A2Z, also known as Alec Zisi, takes to the stage to perform with Mike Wagz, as the two have begun to work together to mix unique beats with Zisi’s lyrical flow. This is the first time they’ve performed their work together.
At this point, the night is coming to a close and the audience is fully vibing with the artists on stage. A2Z is very interactive while performing and the crowd’s response proves his success.
Although Northeastern is not known for being a music-focused school, especially when compared to neighboring schools such as Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory, it’s clear that there’s a new generation of musical people here making moves to further their abilities. There’s a real practicality I’ve seen in many of my classmates here at Northeastern, a real desire to get out and do. Perhaps it’s because these students are drawn to the appeal of co-op and they know that getting out and doing things is more effective than learning by book.
It’s awesome to see relatively young students (all four performers previously mentioned are sophomores) working together to put on a show that they all genuinely care about. It’s clear they have the talent and more importantly, the drive and self-confidence to make it happen. It’s not only the performers involved, but HEY WTF’s team that was assembled and worked hard to make sure the show went smoothly.
“We just wanted to have a good time, we wanted to have some good energy and we thought the comedy would bring the audience into it a little bit more instead of just instrumental beats playing the whole time,” said Mike Wagz in a post-show interview. “So we combined me mixing beats with the comedy, and it just got weird. We just had a good time.”
Indeed, it was weird, but in refreshing way. AfterHOURS is not known for having a great atmosphere, but the “weird” aspect of the show allowed the audience to connect with the performers and loosen up.
Sisselman also explained to me his side of the story.
“I’m a longtime fan of standup comedy, but I never knew how to translate my own humor into the stand up form,” he said. “But I did a few open mic nights and tried to develop a voice. Tonight I went balls out, tried to make the most ridiculous jokes I could ,and it worked out.”
Hi fellow performers agree.
“[Sisselman] is a young one on his grind right now,” said A2Z.
My interview with the three performers was very raw, taking place on a playground sometime in the vicinity of after-midnight. We did not plan for it to happen this way, but as fate would have it I ran into the group on my way home. It seemed that destiny had brought us together.
“I always wanted to do a hip-hop show that was different,” said A2Z, who has performed in Boston previously, as well as in his hometown in New Hampshire. “So this was appealing and brought positive vibes.”
Mike Wagz also filled me in on what’s going on with HEY WTF Records.
“HEY WTF was just a cassette label releasing all different genres of music which wasn’t working. The genre best suited for tapes is beats because, like, ‘beat tapes’, that’s what people call them anyway. They became just an instrumental hip-hop label which is Ryan’s shit,” Wagz said. “That’s what he makes. That’s what a lot of the artists that we had made. So they redefined the label and made it just that.”
“He’s killing it,” Wagz said about Lucht. “The fact that he started a label at such a young age. I love HEY WTF and I rep it.”
However, the overall vibe of the night was definitely conveyed by sophomore digital arts and cinema studies major Andrew Hague. Hague filmed the event, particularly A2Z’ set, in order to capture the experience. He recently decided to make a documentary of the life and times of A2Z.
When asked what he was trying to communicate with his photos, he said, “I was trying to convey their thirst to grow as artists in today’s world.”
Here’s to a bright future for Northeastern’s own. Good luck, homies.