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At a small show, there’s a fine line between awkwardly empty and intimate. It’s the difference between performing despite the crowd and embracing it, between a fan leaving disgusted or excited. Rock ‘em or lose ‘em; at a small show it’s the difference between waiting for the end and wishing it would never stop.

About 40 people came out to BU Central Monday night for the WTBU presentation of the Boston Underground. Of the six hip-hop acts that took the stage during the three-hour showcase, five were Boston based. Chuuwee, a rapper from Southern California, headlined the show but most in the crowd were there to support the growing hip-hop scene in Boston. The show was also a benefit for Music Unites, a national non-profit dedicated to empowering inner city youth through music. Based in New York, the Boston University branch was in the building, collecting donations to help enrich the music programs in disadvantaged school districts.

Just after 7 PM, MeTaL broke the ice with some hard bars and goofy on-stage antics. Shaking up the mic like a spray can, he painted the stage with emotive gestures and dance moves that kept the small crowd captivated. Following his set, MeTaL snuck to the back before resurfacing in the front row, loudly applauding the empty stage. DJ Goulet kept the wheels moving and soon after MeTaL’s unorthodox exit, Charmingly Ghetto picked up the microphone. Shouting out filmmaker Javier Martinez, of ThaReelness.com, and Introspective Minds, a local producer, CG played “Glory,” a song and video on which they all collaborated.

Of all the acts on the set list, I was most excited for Retrospek. Sadly, I was also most disappointed. Evil Dewer and Rah Intelligence took over the 1s and 2s and Spendacash and JuneLyfe took the stage. Known for high-energy performances, a microphone malfunction threw the group off from the beginning, and they couldn’t recover until the very end of their short set. The energy room peaked when Dutch Rebelle of the Famous Nobodies came to the stage and picked up the slack with an engaging performance that had the crowd responding to her every call.

Highlighting the concept for his new mixtape, Twenty One, Aziz started his set with the instrumental to Boston rap legend Edo G’s 1991 song, Gotta Have It. He tore chronologically through instrumentals from ’92 to ’94 before dropping show stopping a capella with dope lines like, “I’m the one. How you livin? And I am a gent like I’m Jeremy Piven.” His mixtape is a collection of 21 beats from the 21 years he’s been alive and he treated the crowd left in BU Central to a pretty comprehensive snippet of his life in rhyme.

In the only full-length set of the night, recent Amalgam Digital signee, Chuuwee, gave an energetic performance to the hip hop faithful who remained in the basement venue. Burning through verses and water bottles like the joint he apparently just smoked, Chuuwee forgot some lines but kept the crowd involved and kept the show moving. The Sacramento native is definitely a rapper worth keeping an ear on in the next few months.

Consistent with every other BU Central show I’ve attended, the Boston Underground showcase ended right on schedule. Although many came down with a case of the Mondays midway through the show, those who stayed till the end enjoyed some of the most intimate performances of the night. WTBU broadcast the entire show live on wtburadio.org, letting the rhymes reach far beyond those crowded around the stage. Look out for more WTBU sponsored event in the future, including this Saturday night at the Yes.Oui.Si Space, where Abadabad, Magic Magic, Color Channel, and Dirty Virgins will take the stage. The show starts at 8 PM.

-William Frothingham

Photo Credit: Ian Macleod