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I am a rising star/About to shoot and nobody knows how far—3LG, “Rising Star”

“Can y’all make some noise?” asks 3 Levels of Genius’ main mouth, PunOne.

A dull roar goes up from the State of the Union crowd.

“Did y’all take some Valium tonight?”

A duller roar.

“Fuck that! I can make more noise than that, and I’m hoarse!” PunOne chides.

It’s not surprising that PunOne’s throat is raw or that the crowd is slightly tired. 3LG is midway through its third full set of hiphop on Halloween, all recorded for posterity with 20 mics onto 48 tracks by Big Mo’s mobile sound studio. The CD will be released by Union Records, the U Street club’s new label dedicated to spreading the word on local talent.

And 3LG overflows with talent. Led by four MCs—Heady, Blas, Face, and PunOne—spurred by Kiggo Wellman’s incessant beats and supported by Dan Cooper’s dexterous funk bass, Kevin Bright’s jazzy keyboard fills, and Kevin Levi’s smooth sax, the group brings to mind both the Roots in its embrace of live hiphop and the Pharcyde with its army of MCs.

The midtempo grooves of 3LG allow for Heady and PunOne to showcase their verbal skills with little musical interference, while Blas and Face provide accents and relief. But the band doesn’t exist merely for rhyme support. Cooper’s angular riffs, in particular, elevate the music above mere rhythmic background.

Some of the group’s earlier go-go influence shows through on “You Know It’s On,” and its theme song, “The Third Level,” features all the MCs in full flow. But the evening’s musical highlight occurs on “The Wheel,” when Heady breaks away from the pack and heads for high gear, with Wellman’s drums matching his speed, before PunOne yells, “Slow the fuck down!,” and then catches the falling, exhausted rapper. Inspired theatrics are called on again during the group’s lone goofy rap, “Tell Me About Your Drawers,” as a member of the audience is pulled on stage for some good-natured clowning.

But it’s on the more serious “Chameleons” that a costumed celebrator jumps up on stage and does a hilarious humpty-dance—literally; he’s simultaneously dressed as bride and groom, with the fella looking like he’s ridin’ his sweetie’s back. It’s Dorf on Golf-funny.

Before “Rising Star,” Heady asks, “How many y’all upwardly mobile people and you got a muthafucker holdin’ ya down?”

There’s a large show of hands. The group starts rockin’.

The piece segues into “G Spot.” Members of Freestyle Union show up to join the band in some improvised verbiage and a beat-box breakdown as the show closes. These stars are shooting.—Christopher Porter