On Thursday morning, an oblong bubble appeared on the screen of my phone. “EU is filibustering reality rn.”
It was a text message from a friend, telling me two things. First, that the District rapper Sir E.U was, at that very moment, 20 hours deep into a 25-hour performance being hosted at the Uptown Art House, a repurposed retail space near the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park. Second thing: Since E.U had launched into this gonzo freestyle at 2:14 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, (the rapper’s 25th birthday), the outside world had been changed.
Some of those changes were entirely predictable — sweethearts went out for dinner, Olympians went flashing across our TV screens. Other changes were not. For one, there had been a mass shooting at a Florida high school, and our president’s first statement on the tragedy suggested that the school’s students were somehow partly responsible for not identifying the alleged shooter beforehand. When it comes to metabolizing unexpected shifts in reality, rap music is more successful than most pop styles, but not today, and not here. Sir E.U was filibustering in the subbasement of his own brain.
I wanted to catch him in his final stretch, so I walked into the show a few ticks before the 24-hour mark — roughly 80 minutes before the performance was scheduled to end at 3:33 p.m. Inside, half-a-dozen witnesses were scattered across the room while the marathon-man stood on a plywood stage, his voice funneled through a lousy PA system, his words distorted beyond comprehension.
Every other day of the year, E.U is a cosmological thinker who concerns himself with the nature of the streets and the stars, but after a sleepless day-and-night-and-day of continuous rhyming, he was pure vocal locomotion. His body is his instrument, and he had taken his instrument to its physical limits. One witness told me that he’d seen the rapper carry his wireless microphone into the bathroom, but hadn’t seen him eat a meal.
With 45 minutes to go, a girl tossed him a Ziploc bag with some orange slices.
With 30 minutes to go, the laptop playing his backing beats went wonky, causing E.U to shout to nobody and everybody, “Anakin! You were supposed to be the chosen one!”
With 15 minutes to go, he hopped off the stage clutching that wireless mic, then limped out the front door, his faithful following him into the strange sunlight.
With 10 minutes to go, he U-turned back inside, bolting the door behind him and rhyming to an empty room. Ever been to a show where the headliner locks the audience out on the sidewalk?
He invited the crowd back inside before finally crossing the big finish line, but at that point, it wasn’t any easier make out what he was saying. In that 25th hour, I’m pretty sure I heard certain words — “god,” “money,” “demons,” “warships” — but I’m entirely confident that I was hearing an unknowable prayer, the kind that makes the forward-march of time go greasy and slack, the kind that lifts us out of the real world and plunges us into a place we’ve never been, together.
“Y’all know what I’m saying?” E.U asked near the end, and even if you didn’t, you absolutely did.