The Palmer Squares have been busy this Summer. They kicked things off in a stellar way with the release of their long-awaited sophomore album Planet of the Shapes which promptly claimed the top spot on the Bandcamp hip hop charts. Soon thereafter, they embarked on a five-night Northeast Mini-tour alongside Shlick Smit, Curt Sharp, and fellow Stank Face member Loud Mouth. Beginning in Baltimore, they worked their way up to Boston, stopping along the way in Philly, NYC, and Providence.
My Baltimore-dwelling, Square's-loving friend Justin was kind enough to put me up for a night, so I was able to catch their kick-off show on June 1st. Having never been to a Palmer Squares show before, or any rap show for that matter (except for that time A$AP Ferg came to my school but somehow that feels different), I had no idea what to expect. My hope was that they would start things off with some Square essentials, maybe throw back to a cypher or two, then cap things off with some tracks off POTS. Other than that, I wanted to buy a t-shirt and, if possible, get a word or two with the duo to find out just how square these cats really are.
The venue was Joe Squared, a pizza place known around Baltimore for their award winning, square pizzas. Fitting. This particular location also boasts a music hall underneath its main bar and dining area complete with a second bar, a bathroom, and most importantly, a sound system. Upon arriving, one pays the $15 for a ticket but instead of a ticket gets a stamp. (Unless you're my friend Justin who initially didn't see the stamp man, walked in without paying, realized he had messed up when he saw his naked hand juxtaposed against mine, went back to correct his mistake and paid the $15 only to find out the stamp man had misplaced the stamp.) Upon heading down the stairs, straight ahead one sees some tables meant for dining which had been commandeered as a merchandise booth. A bit to the right there is the bar, further to the right are some booths for eating, and then further still one finds speakers, stage lighting, and a microphone which, as I would come to find out, is all one needs for a proper rap show.
The first person I see is Acumental who just happens to be walking around sipping water through a straw. I thought for sure he would be backstage waiting for his set to come around. He sees me seeing him and without missing a beat recognizes me from the interview we did with them, calls me by name, introduces himself, and then begins to explain away the water as a cure for his cotton mouth. We continue to talk and he notes how this show will be a nice warm up for the tour, alluding to the simplicity of the venue. This comment led me to realize that there was no backstage, all the performers were just hanging out mingling, selling their merchandise, and having some drinks while they waited for their set. An almost idyllic situation.
First to perform was Curt Sharp. Sharp is a hip hop producer who has recently begun exploring his abilities behind the mic. Looking for his raps, I stumbled upon a video called "American Dream" featuring Shlick Smit and seemingly out of nowhere A-F-R-O. The first time I heard him rap was on his response to the Interstate Cypher which was started by The Palmer Squares and Loud Mouth to build hype for this Northeast Tour. Anyways, Curt Sharp started things off, a daunting task considering half the crowd was busy eating pizza or buying drinks before he got on. Shlick Smit acted as his hype man and together the two got the crowd's attention.
Next up was Shlick Smit himself. It is hard to sum up all that Smit does as he seems to be everywhere doing a little bit of everything, equal parts nomad and enigma. For example, in one conversation with him, he explained to me how he only really owns a bag or two of things because he does not like to be tethered down by earthly possessions. He only has a computer, his clothes, and important documents. As he was explaining how he has no need for furniture, he took a moment to reflect on how strange the word "furniture" is. This led to a brief back in forth that found us simply exchanging words we thought were weird like "castle," "knife," or "bologna." It must be noted that he is who I have to thank for connecting me with the Squares to get the interview about POTS. If he hadn't put me in contact with Acumental, it never would have happened. What's more, Smit is the one who handled the booking for this tour. And, of course, he also raps. His track Focus got featured on OK-Tho not too long ago.
The third performer was Loud Mouth who is also a member of Stank Face Records. His most recent release, the D.R.O. produced "Dog Meat," got featured on OK-Tho. It is the lead single off his upcoming Punk-Hop due out later this summer. Past releases include his Rough House EP and his album Carnage which seems to predate Stank Face. He has a rapid-fire flow and a harder aesthetic than most of Stank Face. I can't quite put it into words but if you know him or his music you will know what I mean. I guess one thing I will say is that he was sipping hard alcohol while the rest of us were drinking water and the occasional Natty Boh. I myself didn't get any usable footage of Loud Mouth's set, but I found this clip from the New York show on his Twitter.
Naturally, The Squares were the last to take the stage. As I had hoped, they performed a mixture of classic Square tracks and songs off their recent release Planet of the Shapes. They were engaged with the crowd in between songs and likewise the crowd was engaged with them during songs, singing along to the majority of the lyrics. After their set, they stuck around for about an hour outside the venue skating and talking to fans. I ended up getting the Stank Face shirt I wanted as well as a poster from Term. You should check out his visual art if you haven't already, he sells it on Etsy. It also must be noted that when I paid for the shirt and the poster, the money went directly into Term's wallet. That's how you know you are supporting real artists.
Reflecting on the event, I am thankful to have caught this group of artists in a city that they had never been to before. Because they were new to the area, they booked a venue smaller than their usual. The turnout was not voluminous, but it was dedicated. I feel like I traveled back in time to get a glimpse of what a Palmer Squares show was like before they had the devoted following they do now. I cannot say your experience will be just like mine, but I highly recommend attending a Palmer Squares show this summer. Even if there is a stage and a backstage and you don't get to walk around and talk to the artists and drink with them, I have a feeling they make a habit of putting on a stellar set, drawing a high energy crowd, and sticking around after to meet those who show them love. Check out the concert footage I got and be sure to pay special attention to the dates of the upcoming Northwest Tour so you can see the Squares live for yourself.