Paid Dues Hip-Hop Festival: Abbey Pub, Chicago—7.25.07

What sets Paid Dues apart from your average indie Hip-Hop show is that these aren’t just a few friends from the same label on the road together. Rather, this twelve-stop tour features several of the most respected subterraneous MCs around, who may or may not be down with each other. On the festival’s first show in Chicago, Paid Dues’ organizer/host Murs made it abundantly clear to the audience that despite his beefs with certain performers like Sage Francis, his personal gripes didn’t get in the way of creating the ultimate lineup of DIY Hip-Hop acts. And this selflessness made for a solid show. When Murs’ Living Legends crewmate The Grouch was on stage, he made a good observation about the day, saying, “This is probably the only time you’d get to see so many established underground artists in one small venue like this.” Considering that the show was moved from the grand Congress Theatre (it fits nearly 3,000) to the sweatbox that is the Abbey Pub (a capacity of only 700), The Grouch couldn’t have said it better—seeing Slug, Murs and seven other top-notch acts on one bill is a rare experience for a spot like the Abbey. But on the flipside, bringing a summer festival-like show into such a small venue during the afternoon made for a not-so comfortable experience. It’s safe to say that most Paid Dues attendees would have rather been outdoors than having to spend seven-plus hours on a muggy day packed into a compact venue with poor air circulation. Although, the show had to go on. Thus a little sweat didn’t stop everyone from animated fast-rap champs Hanger 18 to the mighty Brother Ali from giving it 100-percent.Aside from oddball Sage Francis, who folks either love or hate, every act had the support of practically the entire crowd. Of course most were there to see Murs and Slug, who make up the group Felt. The pair excitedly performed favorites like “Early Mornin’ Tony,” a song ripe with redone classic Hip-Hop lines (e.g. “Lookin’ at my Nixon it’s about that time”). And when Slug did his solo joints like his ultra introspective “Trying to Find A Balance,” the floor was shaking from fans jumping up and down. Another top draw at Paid Dues was Brother Ali’s set, which was highlighted by his be yourself anthem, “Forest Whitaker.” Ali was so well received you would have sworn he was the headliner. At the end of the day, the issues with the unfitting venue change can’t be completely overlooked, yet there’s no denying the amount of unadulterated talent that was on display within these seven hours. And just as Brother Ali said of the event to the audience, “Anytime you got a cat speaking from the heart—that’s real hip-hop.”