Western Mass locals Masla revitalize hip hop as a live art at Pearl Street

By Alexander Beebe

(Courtesy of Masla Official Facebook)
(Courtesy of Masla Official Facebook)

NORTHAMPTON – Last Sunday, New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels and New York underground rap icon Talib Kweli headlined a concert at the Pearl Street in Northampton, MA as part of a nationwide collaborative tour between the two artists.

The show was held in the upper level of the venue, also known as the “Clubroom,” a very intimate setting for the evening with a moderately large crowd of fans huddled up near the stage. While Talib Kweli and The Soul Rebels put on a highly entertaining show that was all-around good-spirited, what became the most surprising aspect of the concert was the outstanding performance from the local group that opened the show.

Masla, a Western Massachusetts-based band, began playing the exact moment the concert was scheduled to begin. And while it’s common to review the headlining performances from a typical concert, this supporting act proved itself worthy of a full-fledged review.

Masla consists of male rapper Cody Edgerly, female rapper Deja Carr (who also provided sung vocals), drummer Brahm Masla, bassist Eli Heath and saxophonist Mtali Banda. The intensely original sound Masla crafted for itself came on vigorous display in the live setting as an incredibly unique fusion of jazz, blues, funk and soul influences. This sound served as a foundation to be further built upon with an impressive hybridized rapping style from both Edgerly and Carr that equally took after the golden age flow of boom bap, the surrealistic and poetic lyricism of abstract hip hop and the relentless pacing of trap rap.

Masla performed five songs before exiting the stage, and over the course of those few short songs they showed surprising versatility and sound. Their performance was fueled by restless physical interaction with the audience as Edgerly constantly incited movement in the crowd at every opportunity that he had. Like the rest of the band members, the rapper was very young and beamed with energy and projected what seemed like a punk rock-inspired stage presence as he threw his fists in the air and continuously leaped around the stage to the beat while still rapping in sync.

The entire set was performed solely using live instrumentation, and while the rarity of having live drum beats during a hip hop concert – as opposed to synthesized ones created with a drum machine or computer – went a long way in making Masla’s music sound raw and organic, each song Masla played seemed to concentrate on a different dimension of their sound that would stylistically contrast with the songs that came before it.

Despite only being the supporting act, Masla stole the show with the sheer potency of their liveliness and overall boundary-pushing inventiveness of their genre-crossing music. This night at Pearl Street came across as a celebration of the advantages of live instrumentation in hip hop, and although they were quite young, Masla showed a level of competency, maturity and refined skill that was nearly on par with the main act, The Soul Rebels, who are highly experienced veterans of the stage. That is unquestionably the sign of a truly flourishing new talent.

Alexander Beebe can be reached at [email protected]