Chiddy Bang and the New Nostalgia

The San Francisco Giants, smoking weed, blowjobs, basketball, Asian girls, the Bay Area, and the symphony: It’s a seemingly eclectic and slightly childish set of terms, even for freestyle rap. “Symphony,” of course, seems the odd word out of the bunch, but it was thrown in because Chiddy Bang drummer Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin deemed it more difficult to rhyme than the rest.

And still, Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege, the more publicly-recognized member of this Philadelphia-based alt hip-hop duo, managed to incorporate all seven topics into a minute-long freestyle last Thursday at the Fillmore. An assistant jotted the words down on paper plates as they were yelled out by members of the audience, and flung the plates, frisbee-style, as Anamege used them. There was no doubting the emcees’ academic pedigree as they regaled an audience of shouting, clapping local college students.

Amanege and Beresin met at Drexel University and launched their group in 2008. They make no bones about being a couple lit nerds – not for nothing did Amanege arrive in a T-shirt with the slogan “Reading Is Sexy.” And they used wordplay as grist for braggadocio. “Chiddy is one of those people who can rhyme absolutely anything,” Beresin said at one point during the concert, getting up from his drumset to confront the crowd. He added that all qualms about his friend’s ability ended one day when, in the midst of a recording session, he challenged Amanage to use the nonsense word “oogly-boogly” in a freestyle rap on the spot. Amanage offered a quick retort: ‘Oogly-boogly /My name’s Chiddy Bang /If you don’t know me, Google me.'”

The command didn’t seem out of place to the tech-savvy teenagers at Thursday night’s concert, which was offered free of charge to local university students by textbook rental service Chegg’s Textbooks & Tickets Tour. The event, largely promoted online by the company, garnered a massive turnout and included more artists than just the headlining duo. Warming up the audience was electro-pop recording artist Dev, who was slingshotted to fame earlier this year when Far East Movement’s track, “Like a G6,” which featured her as a guest vocalist alongside The Cataracts, held first place on the Billboard Top 100 for two weeks straight. Despite the singer’s numerous public statements to the contrary, her distinctive sing-talk style, mannerisms, clothes, and on-stage debauchery – including two champagne showers during a relatively short set – all seemed reminiscent of pop artist Ke$ha. Regardless of the obvious similarities, Dev managed to coax the packed theater into a frenzied excitement with her Billboard-charting 2010 single, “Bass Down Low,” and other songs before culminating with “Like a G6.” While Dev transitioned offstage, the Atlanta-based DJ group Audio Junkeez debuted their new single “Hands Up High” for the first time live.

By the time Chiddy Bang finally took the stage, expectations were high. Anamege and Beresin didn’t waste any time or talk getting down to business, and to the crowd’s delight quickly began to churn out such hits as “Slow Down,” “Hey London,” “Truth,” “The Good Life,” “Here We Go,” and others with an air of confidence that seemed more appropriate for an aging rock band’s reunion than for a group that has yet to release even one full-length album.

In age and style, Anamege and Beresin closely resembled the members of their audience. Had the two chosen to step offstage and don the orange sunglasses distributed by Chegg to every attendee, they would have been instantly camouflaged. “Were 20, we would be juniors in college right now,” Beresin said in a brief pep talk moment. “So just do your thing, do what makes you happy.”

Clearly, Beresin enjoys pounding away on an acoustic drumset while Anamege unravels line after flavorful line. Chiddy Bang has drawn parallels in the music press to the likes of Bruno Mars, Kid Cudi, and other popular artists whose songs don’t always fit into predetermined or commercially sanctioned genres. As Thursday night’s performance demonstrated, and as previous listeners to the duo already knew, the comparisons aren’t wanton. Common elements of rock music frequently appear in Anamege’s and Beresin’s songs, either in rhythm, in direct sampling, or via the usage of actual, playable instruments. Like Mars and Cudi, who have both taken advantage of the mainstream electronica and rock idioms – Mars with his straightforward, organic drum beats and piano riffing in “Nothin’ On You” and Cudi’s collaboration with Kanye West, “Erase Me,” the video for which he dressed up as Jimi Hendrix reincarnated – Chiddy Bang has sampled the work of not only MGMT but of indie and alternative favorites like Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, and the relatively new Passion Pit.

Sampling was certainly accepted as a practice years before Chiddy Bang had even walked the stage at their respective eighth grade graduations, but the duo’s performance demonstrated just how the technique has taken on a changed meaning in today’s music scene. In a music business where a lack of electronic enhancements seems more an accidental atavism than an intentional final product, sampling has become, in many cases, hardly an exception and almost the rule. The millions of kids who know Facebook as the modus operandi for standard communication are arguably much more accustomed than past generations to the sharing, swapping, and repurposing of not only art but of the very information that defines a person’s identity. And as more influences blend and more minds meld, that art can morph to become more aware of the canon of other work, more cross-referencing, and more complex, an idea to which Chiddy Bang’s diverse stylistic fluctuations attest.

Take, for example, Chiddy Bang’s obliquely-titled “The Opposite of Adults,” which samples MGMT’s more recognizable song, “Kids,” albeit with an altered beat and lyrics. The song functions both as a paean and lament about the ritual of growing up. Considering the collective age of the audience, Chiddy Bang’s verses seemed mournful and assertive, but always sharply delivered, to a group wedged squarely between the offline generation and the Age of the App. Indeed, only a younger audience could relate to rap songs that name-check web sites and wi-fi gadgetry.

“Remember you was a kid, reminisce days of the innocence,” Anamege barked into the microphone. “Now it’s Chiddy Bang, Google me the images.” The earnestness of the band and its passionate delivery of the song – by and large, from a technical standpoint, already written by MGMT – made heads bob, bodies jump, and lips sync in the crowd. Clusters of people in the audience began whipping out their cameras and phones, etherizing the here-and-now to be catalogued hours later online, speeding the present even faster along its inevitable trajectory toward the past.

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