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Miami's I/O Lounge was at half capacity January 14, the crowd divided between hard-core hip-hop heads and general-interest partiers ready to recite lyrical ringers like "Yo mama's got a peg leg with a kickstand." Former Pharcyde fellow Fatlip was headlining, but by the time he wrapped up his couldn't-call-it-a-comeback set, even the most casual listener had to recognize the real talent in the room.

People came for the Lip but were floored by the Bird.

Not quite an MC and not a spoken-word poet either, Pembroke Pines rappacist Bluebird took the stage around midnight, the last of the local openers before the national acts. Sporting horn rims, a flannel shirt, and a cocked, olive-drab Army cap, he looked entirely the part of the intellectual backpack rapper. He started out by saying he'd been fired from his job because he had to leave early to make his stage time at I/O.

"Fuck it -- it's just a job," he vented. "I can always get another one."

He then launched into his set with tightly wound energy that bordered on volatile. Bluebird rapped but didn't rhyme -- his linear, stream-of-madness rant stacked metaphor upon meaning upon allusion like linguistic Legos. He built weird story verses, keeping the final word but not much else on the beat. The style was unique and daunting in its lyrical impenetrability. Behind him, on the decks, a DJ spurted glitchy, off-kilter breaks and fuzz-filtered atmospherics. Not at all your typical thumping, metronomic approach to hip-hop meter, this stuff was far more schizoid and dark.

By the time he reached the climax of his set, soliciting subject matter from the audience (the tsunami, gay marriage, and Dick Cheney) Bluebird was flailing across the stage, flapping his arms like a man in flames. He dug deep into the vice president and issued screeds about the VP's meager compensation to the tsunami victims -- so much so that he didn't have time to launch into gay marriage before the beat cut out.

The crowd, properly awed, went nuts.

And when the first big national act -- L.A.'s Omni -- took the stage, people headed for the bar.

SoFla's hip-hop junkies know when and where to give props. In the front room, away from the stage, folks were giving pounds to the local boys -- openers Soul What? from Miami, Fort Lauderdale's Leftoverz, and West Palm's Secondhand Outfit -- and greeting one another like old friends. The Audio Thrift Shop table was the de-facto rallying point for a kind of b-boy culture klatch, as label folks, MCs, DJs, street teamers, zine writers, and other scene-makers hung out smoking and sipping on bottles of Bud.

Reportedly, Fatlip had been spotted outside the club earlier in the night. Thinking he was one of the Design District's homeless, one bargoer bummed the jittery, ragged-looking dude a smoke. "I'm Fatlip!" he rasped to the bouncer, and headed back inside.

When he finally staggered on-stage as the night's main event, the L.A. rapper was beyond the far side -- he looked blunted and puffy-eyed, like he had just woken up. From the start, he fell back on classic Pharcyde tunes rather than busting new shit from his fabled "upcoming" album. But even those well-loved verses -- some of which he's been spitting for 12 years -- he couldn't finish. Whether he was too high, too old, or too lazy was impossible to tell.

Most of the remaining fans were the undiscerning and inebriated, who chanted along dutifully to the golden oldies, filling in the parts Fatlip flubbed. He brought audience members up on stage to rap his former bandmates' lines on "Passing Me By," but nobody -- especially Fatlip -- was worth the price of admission. After a feeble, disappointing 20 minutes, the man made like his career over the past five years and faded out without a goodbye.

When the crowd finally realized he was off-stage, a lackluster cheer went up, part respect and part relief.

Beatcomber fielded a fair amount of skepticism a couple of weeks ago after heralding this show in a preview. Such a recommendation would never have been made sight unseen, and in this case, the four truly dope tracks on the Lip's website ( were enough to convince us of Fatlip's potential badassness.

Damn, were we wrong.

Fatlip: Wherever you were before Friday the 14th, go back there and practice like hell before you show up in public again.

And Bluebird, forget the day job. You and the rest of the SoFla underground will cover a lot of ground if you keep spreading your wings.