Singing along harmoniously to synth beats is one thing; dancing to them is another. Herring is becoming more known for his groovy disco dance moves (popularized and publicized in Letterman's Late Show), performing body waves and fantastic footwork in live performances. Last month, I had the opportunity to witness Samuel Herring dance for two hours straight while reciting songs of love and lost, nostalgia and discovery.
Sure he could sing, but can the big burly…rap?
Well surprisingly, yes.
Most people know Samuel Herring for his impressive singing skills. Yet, a few may know of Herring's hip-hop project and alter ego, Hemlock Ernst.
Hemlock Ernst performed last night in The Echo, an intimate, hipster-friendly venue located in the artistically blossoming neighborhood of Echo Park. To my surprise, there was not a "sold-out" sign or hour-long lines. Half the venue was filled, a still crowd with scattered applause for the first set. Now it was time for Samuel's anticipated set.
Dressed in a similar navy print shirt (as the one he wore at the Fox last month), with a receding hairline, strong chin and powerful eyes, the rapper first thanked the small crowd, introducing himself as Hemlock Ernst. And then, a methodic, rhythmic barrage of rap attacks ensued, one after another. I was amazed at the amount of content Hemlock had amassed. A confessional collection of personal stories and warmth kept the audience in dazed satisfaction. Then, silence. Then, large applause. Hemlock Ernst is effective.
Over jazz-influenced, sample-heavy (similar to MF Doom) beats, Hemlock raps about his love for North Carolina, how he grew up in such a nowhere-place. Drinking forty-ounce malt liquor and smoking doobies after rolling them in his mom's kitchen? The crowd was not reciting his lyrics verbatim as they did in the Fox; they were just as clueless as the next observer.
No groovy moves that night, only profound, precise wordplay. His shirt was not even sweat-soaked. The emcee remained cool, calm and collected until the viewers got the message: Hemlock Ernst has serious potential, effortless talent, and humble intentions.
With close to no content release to the public, Hemlock Ernst is exclusive to the lowkey events he performs at.
I had the opportunity to meet Samuel before his set. I shook his warm, firm hand and told him I was reporting his performance tonight for USC.
"Oh, cool. Yeah, I like USC," said Mr. Herring. Surely enough, towards the end of his last track, Hemlock Ernst flows into a quick improvisation and darts his eyes into the crowd, rhyming, "…yeah and I f –k with USC."
This is a trend we rarely see artists adopting. Samuel Herring is taking this emcee project more seriously than you think. With a delivery resembling a combination of Captain Murphy (Flying Lotus' rap alter ego), Ratking and Atmosphere, Hemlock Ernst is distinguishable as a talented hip hop artist that does not necessitate glamour, swagger, or money — even publicity. But who knows when he will surface to the mainstream? Not even him.
Isn't that talent?
Reach Staff Reporter Julian Lee here.