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Hip-hop never died. It just left this world behind.
Rock the Bells Tuesday night was a dope show. Smif N Wessun were tight and brought out surprise guests Ruck and Rock for a nearly complete BCC reunion (Buckshot is touring the west coast with Talib Kweli). Sean Price got on the mic to huge cheers and ripped “Onion Head”. They played several classic Shinin’ tracks and that single from the last BCC album where each guy starts his verse with a different Click member’s classic opening line. The BCC catalog is sick.
I was skeptical about Supernat and the big chip on his shoulder was certainly hard to see past. We heard a couple “I earned my spot here” and “I hold the Guiness record for longest freestyle” and even a “They say I can’t write a record but I wrote that!” Shut up! Show, don’t tell…. But then ultimately he did show and won the crowd over with clever freestyles and a big bag of tricks.
When I ran into Dallas after the show he said “whatever you want to say about Supernat, that dude is what hip-hop is all about.” You can supply your own snarky punchline but Nat did a good show. Next time I’ll take his picture.
Raekwon was fucking dope and with so many Wu and OB4CL classics to deliver he had the crowd pumped as hell. Smartly he avoided any material from the past nine years except for a brand new track over a RZA beat which sounded incredible. Rae’s spots from the past year or so have shown him in fine form – a man invigorated and hopes remain high for the sequel to his classic debut album. It was also smart of Rae to do the verses of his Wu clan-mates in their absence. Showing himself to be just as big a fan of the legendary Wu as anyone else in the building.
Near the end of Redman’s set on the other hand he mostly let the beat ride for the first half of “Da Rockwilder”, his hypeman sometimes shouting out the last word of whatever Mef lyric. A questionable decision but not the worst one in Redman’s set which started off as a high-energy romp but lost steam in the middle when he let not 1, not 2, but all 3 of his weed carriers get consecutive songs in. Redman, I’ve seen Keith Murray, I knew Keith Murray… and your new weed carriers are no Keith Murray.
Although I just managed to do it, it really is hard to complain after seeing a bunch of classic Redman joints performed. Especially when one of them is the deep-cut Roni Size collaboration “Da Goodness”. Like that hyper beat, Redman bounced all over the stage and just watching him go was practically a work-out.
Somewhere in the middle of the show, DJ Kool spun the requisite golden era classics for both the head-nodders and the shameless rap-alongs.
It was indeed a hell of a show. High on nostalgia and second-hand cheeba smoke but low on crankiness despite the title of Breihan’s chronologically backwards review (this ain’t Memento dog). It was a good vibe that filled the place. Like we were all escaping reality and chilling in some alternate universe that had forked off from 1995.
And it struck me afterwards that we basically had escaped reality and taken refuge in a hip-hop that was a little bit its own pocket universe.
Before the show I had been waiting in front of BB King’s. I was standing next to a smartly dressed, pissed-off black guy relating to someone on the other end of his cell phone what he could make from recounts of the Sean Bell shooting that has shaken up New York this week.
Immediately upon leaving the show I saw a female cop talking real tough and stepping to a white teenager coming out of the club who had apparently mouthed off to her in some way.
In my car ride back to the suburbs I listened to Hot 97, the supposed enemy of “real Hip-Hop”
It was DJ Green Lantern’s show. He had a caller who they spoke to for at least 10 minutes who was pissed that most hip-hop fans won’t even feel for a minute that they should do a goddamn thing about the Sean Bell shooting.
They didn’t have any real answers but at least they were talking about it. And when they stopped to play music they went to the chillingly appropriate “Black Cop” by KRS-One.
The ride home had me bugging out that during this four hour long show here in New York, four New York acts (Supernat is from Indiana but calls NY home now, Redman is close enough in Jersey) didn’t even mention the NYPD shooting three unarmed black men a few days earlier, killing one of them the night before he was to get married.
And I think of DJ Kool telling the crowd that Public Enemy is “still [his] favorite rap group of all time” but also the sense that those around me weren’t vibing on the P.E. records as much as they were the rest of the set.
I’m not expecting any of the acts there to be the voice of political consciousness. That’s not their role but really at least some acknowledgment was warranted. It’s not like a few words against the police would be out of line with any of their body of work particularly Smif N Wessun.
The last time I saw both Raekwon and Redman live was ten years ago on Def Jam’s “The Show” tour. Wu-Tang was hosting the show and RZA was too drunk to stand straight. The concert was in the gym of a private college, RZA was stumbling around the stage drinking from a bottle of something and wilding out on the mic. The man who would be Digital was letting his thoughts be known on how little stake he put in the value of higher education as well as dropping an angry diatribe about Medgar Evers that never quite reached coherence. Other members of the clan tried their hardest to calm him down. Even if drunk RZA’s points weren’t clear at least his rage was. There’s a necessary place for rage in hip-hop and I find myself wishing that the spirit of drunk RZA could have left the lab and represented at Tuesday night’s show.
But alas, Redman informs us several times Tuesday night that “we’re all here because we have records coming out”. He also has us reminisce on 1992 – a time when people wore ski caps and it was ok to be a rapper and dress like a grimy bastard.
True but that was also a time when rap was supposed to speak to and speak for the streets. Tuesday night, you can feel the anger on the streets. But for four hours inside the crowded basement of BB King’s there is no anger, there is only escape.