When Chuck D, founder of Public Enemy and creator of the HipHopGods Tour, talks about hip-hop acts, he refuses to use the term, “old school.”
“That’s being dismissive of who we are and what we do,” said Chuck D. “We are classic artist.”
See, old school artists don’t get called for gigs. Their shows are few and far between. On the other hand, classic rock acts such as the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac are selling out arenas worldwide. Old school just doesn’t sell – at least that’s what concert promoters told Chuck.
Never mind the fact that Public Enemy was just nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or fellow tour mate, Monie Love, has a top show – “Ladies First” – on Backspin Radio, a satellite channel dedicated to old school … um … classic hip-hip music. Forget the fact that X Clan has one of the most powerful albums in hip-hop, To the East, Blackwards. The Leaders of the New School are, well, old school and thus the members of the group aren’t being called to perform. Now of course, former member Busta Rhymes continues to have one of the most influential voices in hip-hop and I seriously doubt he’s having troubles getting promoters to answer his calls, but for his former band mate, Dinco D; not the case.
Left: Welcome to the Terrordome. PE front man Chuck D raps as iconic hype man, Flava Flav shows he’s not just window dressing by jamming out on the bass.
So when Chuck D decided to create the HipHopGods Tour, these classic artists dusted off their Kangols, Africa medallions, Adidas shell-toes … and for PE hype man, Flava Flav, his infamous clock, and took to the road for a concert that can only be described as classic.
First, First Avenue was the perfect venue to host this show. It feels old sch … sorry, classic. It has a look and feel of a 1980’s hip-hop venue. It smells like it hasn’t been bathed in a while. It’s raw, it’s gritty –it’s hip-hop.
As the crowd packed in (and the place was packed), the energy in the room was palatable. And from the moment opening act Awesome Dre took the stage to the time Public Enemy caused me to lose my voice; the show was nonstop excitement.
Let’s get right to the best part – Public Enemy put on one of the greatest shows ever.
Immediately prior to PE taking the stage (keep in mind Chuck D hosted the entire evening, so he never really left the stage) DJ Davey DMX, who is well known in hip hop as a DJ and producer for Run DMC, Kurtis Blow (he wrote and produced the classic, “If I Ruled the World” for Blow), the Fat Boys and more; took to the stage to display his turntable skills. And the man still has skills. But Davey wasn’t done there. He then picked up the bass guitar on stage and proceeded to play bass for the PE set. Yes, PE used a live band with a guitar player who was as much rock as he was soul, an in-the-pocket drummer, Davey on Bass (mostly – I’ll get to that later) and DJ Lord on the turntables. Who said hip-hop artists aren’t musicians?
Then came the sirens.
Those familiar, intense, high-pitched sirens that can only mean one thing … as Flav says so often, “PE in the house, boy.” Public Enemy’s near hour-long set could only be described as, you got it … classic.
Left: Flamboyant as always, Flava Flav greets the First Avenue crowd wearing a tri-color fur jacket.
Immediately, Chuck and the band were joined by Professor Griff and the S1Ws who went into their precise military-style steps as Chuck began rapping in his familiar cadences. It wasn’t until midway through the opening number when the crown-prince of hip-hop, Flava Flav hit the stage in a black, white and brown fur jacket. Thankfully the eyesore of a jacket came off and Flav was up to his old tricks, gyrating about stage, hopping off speakers and hyping the crowd the entire time.
Unlike many acts that run from their more popularly known songs in favor of new material, PE came to bring the noise – literally, as they performed hit after hit, including, of course, “Bring the Noise,” “Rebel Without a Pause,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “911 Is a Joke,” “Welcome to the Terrordome ,” – which particularly was a highlight as Flav shocked the audience and took the bass from Davey and began playing along with the rest of the band (Flav later played drums to “Timebomb” as Slug and Brother Ali of Rhymesayers laced the stage with back-and-forth freestyles), “Shut ‘Em Down,” “Night of the Living Bassheads,” “He Got Game,” “Arizona” and “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.”
The group ended its power-packed set with its best known single, “Fight the Power,” which further delighted the frenzied crowd.
I’d be doing the reader a disservice if I didn’t mention that PE’s DJ, DJ Lord is the truth. Lord’s turntable wizardry is second to none. His brilliance was on full display when he scratched records at breakneck speed using his fingers, nose, stomach, back and various other body parts to manipulate the records and fader.
The rest of the crew
Left: Monie Love, one of the pioneering ladies in hip-hop, gettin’ it during her performance of “Monie in the Middle.”
Monie Love’s set was brief, but highly entertaining. Once again showing the Twin Cities is full of talent, Love brought a local artist, Mally, on stage to perform. Love said she never met Mally, but he emailed her his song and she enjoyed it so much she wanted to bring him on stage.
Love performed her verse to the Queen Latifah song, “Ladies First,” and her classic hit, “Monie in the Middle,” ending the set with her iconic dance from the song’s video.
The performance of the night (besides PE) belonged to Wise Intelligent. Wise’s lyrical delivery was flawless on the Poor Righteous Teachers’ classic, “Rock This Funky Joint.” Wise then performed his new single, “I Said It” and judging from the crowd, it too will have staying power, as the audience chanted along with Wise, “I said it, I said it, that’s right, I said it.”
Left: PSK from makin’ that green. Schoolly D brought the crowd to life with his outrageous stage show.
Then there’s Schoolly D.
Schoolly didn’t stay on stage long but while he was there; wow. There’s something about seeing a middle-aged shirtless man with a flabby chest and protruding belly that lets you know caution has been thrown to the wind and it’s time to party. But then again, what’s to expect from the man who performed the music for and occasionally narrates “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” a staple of Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” line-up.
Dinco D of Leaders of the New School represented the group by himself as Charlie Brown didn’t show for the gig and Busta is no longer affiliated with the group. But still, Dinco’s verses on such classics as “Case of the PTA,” “Sobb Story,” and the truly classic, “Scenario” were enough to keep the crowd hype.
Though I’m betting most people in the crowd never heard of Awesome Dre, they showed him mad love (as us old sch … darn it … classic hip-hop heads would say). Dre was followed by Son of Bazerk who a few more may have been familiar with. Quite honestly, I wasn’t wowed by the group’s performance.
The biggest disappointment of the night was the performance of X Clan. Without the voice of Professor X, who died in 2006, X Clan just isn’t the same. Front man Brother J was nice in his delivery, but the group didn’t perform many of its hits and the hits it did perform were done so to unfamiliar beats, thus most of the crowd didn’t get into the performance.