Every year Hip-Hop fans in the New York tri-state area, as well as those making the pilgrimage from other destinations around the world, come together to partake in what, for many of us, has become a much cherished annual tradition: The Rock Steady Crew Anniversary, marked each summer with a series of highly anticipated events celebrating the inception of the legendary b-boy and b-girl crew. Originally founded in 1977 by Bronx b-boys Jimmy D and Jojo, the Rock Steady Crew’s influence in taking b-boying from Bronx streets and tenement hallways and ushering the art-form into the stratum of a global phenomenon has been unparalleled.
Over the years, Rock Steady has become synonymous with the practice and preservation of authentic Hip-Hop culture. Profoundly showcasing all of Hip-Hop’s elements while putting on an incredible show has been the hallmark of past Rock Steady Crew Anniversary celebrations and 2006 would certainly be no different. Every year the week-long string of festivities is capped off in grand fashion with a free concert featuring an all-star lineup of MCs, DJs, b-boys and graffiti artists. 29 years of Hip-Hop history would serve as the backdrop to this year’s star-studded showcase held in Newark’s Lincoln Park. Big Daddy Kane, Q-Tip, Rhymefest, Large Professor, Wise Intelligent and Freddie Foxxx were all scheduled to perform along with a slew of other MCs and special guests. The décor was to be provided by famed graffiti artists COPE 2, Terrible T-Kid and 2 Fly, among others who would be painting live pieces. As we drove down New Jersey’s Interstate 78 and into Newark, the mood was set. I’ve been looking forward to this all summer.
We arrived at the park just in time; on several occasions I’ve been advised by friends as well as total strangers that Mapquest may not be the best way to plan your next trip. I’ve yet to pick up on what apparently has been obvious to the whole world for quite some time now. The show was free but you still had to go through security to enter the designated area in the middle of the park where the concert was being held. Food and merchandise vendors lined up outside the gates hoping to arouse the appetites of concert-goers and passers-by alike. I was definitely tempted to check out the fried fish stand but checkin’ out the show was first priority. After struggling for a few minutes to occupy a worthy patch of personal space, we successfully settled in by the right corner of the stage just as the EOW MC challenge was about to get underway.
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For the last four years, Big Zoo, Prolific Wone and Vise Verses, the longtime hosts of New York City’s longest running weekly open mic, End Of The Weak aka EOW (check out www.EndOfTheWeak.com), have also done a superb job as the resident hosts for Rock Steady. To be honest – having been to quite a few Hip-Hop shows – as far as hosts go, these guys are at the top of the game. Every year they keep the crowd engaged and thoroughly entertained. Although, to be fair, anticipation is never a problem with the type of lineup we’ve become accustomed to seeing at a Rock Steady Anniversary.
Prior to any of the big guns taking to the stage, the EOW crew offers up and coming MCs an opportunity to flaunt their mic game in the EOW MC Challenge, an innovative tournament that foregoes tired battle clichés in favor of events such as beat juggling and the grab bag freestyle, an event that puts contestants in the difficult position of freestyling about a variety of objects as they are randomly picked out of a box. Always a crowd favorite, the MC challenge this year was especially satisfying as it featured a wide variety of styles and skill sets among the ten or so MC contestants. Some time later during the show it was announced that this year’s winner had just agreed to a deal with Fat Beats to release his record. Talk about having a good day.
In between chugging three Red Bulls and watching graff artists piece on box trucks and sheets of plywood brought in for the occasion, I was able to catch glimpses of a solid performance by Many Styles as well as an energetic, well received set from Q-Unique. Between the glaring sun and the Red Bulls, something didn’t feel right and it was off to the air conditioned press tent for a breather. Backstage I noticed somebody I wasn’t expecting to see, the one and only DJ Premier. Primo was all smiles, occasionally reaching over the barricade to shake hands with eager fans and even taking the time to pose for pictures. After a much needed break, I was back to my spot at the right corner of the stage.
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Rhymefest was first on deck in a seemingly endless parade of stars that would be gracing the stage for the second half of the afternoon in Lincoln Park. Showing the poise of a seasoned performer, Fest seemed well within his comfort zone jumping off stage and into the crowd while delivering an impromptu freestyle to the delight of swarming fans. The Chicago MC’s “blue collar” approach and conscious subject matter hit home as Fest concluded a twenty minute set with his “lost verse” off the Grammy Award winning smash “Jesus Walks”.
Picking up where Rhymefest left off would be Trenton, New Jersey’s native son Wise Intelligent. The Poor Righteous Teachers front man delivered what was arguably the day’s most striking display of skill, dispelling all naysayers with a crystal clear, machine gun flow that sent shockwaves through eardrums across Lincoln Park. Weaving a heavy dose of knowledge into his fierce rapid fire delivery, the veteran rhymesmith easily lived up to the name of his soon to be released solo LP, The Talented Timothy Taylor. Stay on the lookout, you know what it is.
For the moment, the theme of conscious rap would continue as Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar graced the stage to blaze some cuts off his critically acclaimed new record, The 5% Album. If you’re going to perform on a 90 degree day, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a black shirt probably isn’t the best idea. The god seemed somewhat hampered by the heat but to his credit managed to keep things together long enough to satisfy the fans and pass the baton to Freddie Foxxx.
Arriving with his crew, the Krupt Mob, in a fleet of about fifteen late model motorcycles that had to be diverted away from the park entrance by police, Freddie Foxxx, as he always does, made his presence felt right away. Always eager to engage the fans, crack jokes and take shots at music industry executives, Bumpy Knuckles could have been a comedian in another life; and he would’ve been a damn good one too. The man’s mic game, on the other hand, is certainly no laughing matter. After dropping several jewels, Bumpy took a moment to pay homage, surprising everyone by bringing to the stage pioneering female rapper Sweet Tee. Nearly overwhelmed by all the love the fans were showing her, Tee reassured us that her skills hadn’t faded, properly performing her seminal hit “It’s Like That Ya’ll” before handing the reins back over to Foxxx, who had yet another surprise in store.
Ready to preview several new joints from his soon to be released album Amerikkkan Black Man, Bumpy implored the producer of the track he was about to spit over to join him on stage. A few moments later the legendary DJ Premier appeared alongside the heavyweight MC, microphone in hand. The two shared several humorous moments as Foxxx pestered Premier about only having enough time to do four tracks on his new album. “They’re all fire though”, he conceded before wrapping up his set in grand fashion with Primo by his side.
After a brief set from Large Professor capped off by the Main Source classic “I’m Looking At The Front Door”, it was time for us to meet our hosts. Crazy Legs, the Rock Steady Crew President and a member of the crew since 1979, made his way onto the stage calling upon all Rock Steady Crew members in attendance to join him, which they soon did. After a few words, a group photo opp and a moment of silence for all of Rock Steady’s fallen soldiers, it was time for the b-boys and b-girls to get busy. F*ck a video, this is what Hip-Hop eye candy is all about. Bgirl Renegade, Fle Rock, Jeskilz and the other Rock Steady all-stars made it look easy, putting on clinic and making us rub our eyes in disbelief.
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Originally scheduled to man the turntables, it would have appeared at first that Q-Tip was intent on showcasing his prowess on the decks as opposed to thrilling the fans with a classic Tribe verse. Announced as a “world class DJ”, Tip seemed right at home cutting up old school breaks as the b-boys and b-girls that remained on stage kept us thoroughly entertained with inordinate displays of style and agility. Even Crazy Legs got in on the action, confirming beyond a shadow of a doubt where his heart was after nearly three decades of b-boying.
All of a sudden and rather inconspicuously, Tip mixed a familiar track into his set. The crowd nearly exploded when he ran out from behind the turntables and grabbed a mic just in time to break into a surprise rendition of “World Tour”. At times it seemed like the barricade in front of the stage would tip over as thousands of raised hands motioned back and forth in unison. What followed next was as much comical as is was delightful to watch. Serving as his own DJ, Q-Tip feverishly ran back and forth from behind the turntables, putting on tracks and making it back to the microphone just in time to spit the next Tribe classic. Tip’s helium flow, even more apparent live, and double-duty circus act drew by far the day’s biggest reaction. However, the grand finale was still to come.
Making his way onto the stage holding a stack of CDs, Big Daddy Kane was in no rush to perform. Addressing the fans, the legendary MC wanted to make sure he did his part to support all the up and coming artists who took the time to hand him a demo back stage. “A couple of brothers gave me these CDs, lemme tell ya’ll about them”, he said calmly thumbing through the demos in his hand. One by one he went through every single disc naming the artists and album titles for the fans to hear. Occasionally stumbling upon an awkward pronunciation, he’d ask if anyone knew how to say the artist’s name correctly. In each case someone did, shouting it out from the crowd. For an MC of Kane’s stature to show that much love to artists that he had never even heard of was in and of itself incredible to witness and is a true testament to the man’s character, not just as an MC but as a human being. As he said on “Mr. Pitiful” – I love everyone / And I never act prejudiced to none. Apparently to Kane, it was more than just a rhyme.
Delivering a flawless, action packed set featuring “Young, Gifted & Black”, “Ain’t No Half Steppin” and “Smooth Operator”, Big Daddy Kane certainly vowed the fans but concluded his set in humble fashion, relinquishing the spotlight to the crew who’s 29th Anniversary we were all celebrating. As Kane stayed on stage as a spectator, Rock Steady got busy again, dropping a world class stage show. It was a beautiful thing to see in this era of spotlight hogging MCs. On this day I learned a very important lesson from Big Daddy Kane and it’s not something I will forget anytime soon; no amount of money or jewelry can ever buy you the respect you can earn by the way in which you treat other people. To be a legend, you have to act like one. Without a shadow of a doubt, Big Daddy Kane is a legend in every sense of the word.
The show came to a close with a massive freestyle session featuring surprise guest Craig G as well as many of the artists who had performed earlier in the day. Leaving Lincoln Park, I only had one thought on my mind; I wonder what it’s going to be like next year?
For more news and info on the Rock Steady Crew stay tuned to www.RockSteadyCrew.com