A finely chiseled gem of the Boston music culture exists at Backlash Beer in Roxbury in the form of a bimonthly beat show called Nightworks. The event hosted by hip-hop producer Rah Zen put on its twelfth installment on Saturday, the 14th. I’ve been trying to make it out to the last few, but things happen (like deciding to be a hermit). There was no way I was missing this show where producer Exile was the headlining act. And while I was excited to catch the producer who is a master of the MPC2000XL (more on that later), has production credits including work with Mobb Deep, Blu, Homeboy Sandman, Open Mike Eagle (to just name a few), and is founder of Dirty Science Record Label, I was equally impressed with the community and event as a whole.
In the Backlash Beer building included pop-up shops from Union Sound, HS Vintage, and SCOPE Apparel, constant great music including an incredible vinyl-only DJ set by Keith Foley, video games and arcade machines, stellar visuals by Samo, and great affordable beer. So while I was sipping my Delicious Juice IPA, I could go around and check out some vintage clothing, some music gear, or even steadily watch the DJ flip through his record collection and precisely move his needle to the right soul, electronic, or disco track to fit the vibe.
While the DJ set the mood that we were in for a night of exciting and eccentric music, the producers that came before Exile brought great energy with their sets. Teeba and 1st Official were local producers, while Sirplus came in from California and is a collaborator of Exile’s Dirty Science record. The SP500 reigned supreme throughout these sets filled with a mix of glitchy hip-hop instrumentals, soul, afrobeat, dancehall, and the list goes on.
I mentioned I’d get back to it later, and here it is: Exile is a madman on the MPC2000XL. For those who don’t know, an MPC2000XL is a drum pad machine that has been used by hip-hop producers to chop samples, create drum sequences, and track out songs. I used to watch his beat making videos years ago when I’d attempt to chop samples and make audible sounds out of it, but this was a whole different experience. He kicks off his set with a live beat–hard hitting sounds and electrifying, spacey samples filled the room. His fingers (and sometimes the side of his palm) moved rapidly to keep time and energy and at times the set became a drum solo with reverb and effects filling the room. The MPC magic took up only a third or so of the set, while the rest was filled with Exile deejaying classic tracks and production from his collection. I’ve been a huge fan of Exile since I first heard Below The Heavens by him and Blu around ten years ago, and I had to fan boy a bit every time he dropped an instrumental from that project or let Blu’s raps play out a bit.
The energy of the room was inviting to everyone and that’s why I noted that the community aspect of the event was the most impressive. There was a group of people all ready for whatever was up next. Whether it was an ode to boom-bap or a space travel soundtrack, the heads did not stop bobbing. You can tell off first glance this is a crowd mixed with fellow beat makers or avid connoisseurs of instrumental hip-hop.
While Nightworks happens every other month, there is a constant stream of events that happen around Boston within the beat making community. Notably between Union Sound and Nightworks curators, there’s an event at least every other week. Stay up to date with all of them and at least make sure you’re getting your monthly dose of Boston beats.