We turned onto 42nd street after another unfortunate detour through Times Square which took almost twenty minutes as traffic stood still seemingly engulfed in a sea of Friday night tourists. Creeping around the corner of 7th avenue and 42nd I noticed a line about four people wide stretching all the way up the block. This couldn’t be the line for BB King’s though; I went to see Ol’ Dirty Bastard there last February and walked right in. Now if you know how New York City is set up, you know that the blocks between the streets are short but the blocks between avenues are like a quarter mile wide. Being as we were on a block between avenues, when I first saw the line it was so long there was no way to tell where exactly it was coming from. For all I knew, it could have been anything.
As we inched up 42nd street gazing at the sea of lights and billboards it became apparent that the line was mostly filled with very casually dressed people in their 20’s and 30’s. This peaked my interest and I rolled down the passenger side window. “What’s this line for?” I shouted to anyone willing to answer. Nobody did. “What’s this line for?” I tried again, this time louder. Seizing the opportunity as a man standing in line momentarily turned towards me, I made eye contact and yelled out a third time “What’s this line for?” The man shouted back but not nearly loud enough for me to hear. “You say Big Daddy Kane?” I replied instinctively having not heard what the man actually said. “Yes” he nodded twice quickly turning around. And there it was, the entire tone of the night had suddenly changed.
BB King’s was sold out. By the time we parked and got inside it was after 11:30pm and an opening act was already on stage. Well over two thousand people filled the venue to capacity; we struggled to bypass the common folk on our way to the VIP section. Actually, it’s not a real VIP section, all you need to do is sit down spend a little bit of money on food and drinks and you too can be a VIP; it sure beats standing in a crowd for four hours, that’s for sure. The waitress came over with our drinks just as another group was making its way onto the stage. The main show was scheduled to be Big Daddy Kane and The Beatnuts but apparently this was to follow.
The next act out would be Outerspace, a gritty Latin rap duo out of North Philadelphia. With a good amount of energy and solid skills on the microphone Outerspace managed to keep the crowd engaged; however as expected for any opening act, drew the greatest amount of applause when MCs Planetary and Crypt The Warchild asked the fans what they were here for – “Are ya’ll ready for Big Daddy Kane and The Beatnuts?!” It’s funny; the fans always seem to be ready a little earlier than the artists actually come out. I guess it’s what we call anticipation.
Being as The Beatnuts have long represented for Latinos in Hip-Hop, it was very appropriate that the next man out on stage was none other than The Devastating Tito from The Fearless Four. Before The Beatnuts, before Fat Joe and Big Pun, Tito was the original Latin MC puttin’ it down in the early ‘80’s. With a large entourage standing beside him, Tito made a surprise guest appearance turning back the clock and spittin’ fire through the mic like it was 1981. “Tito wasn’t no motherfuckin’ joke then and he ain’t no motherfuckin’ joke now” said the cat introducing the pioneering Latin MC. Dude was right; Tito was spittin’ hard, a cappella and everything; laced in fur and gold Tito came out like a star at the top of his game; a retired old school rapper – never that.
After a brief intermission featuring the legendary DJ Roc Raida on the wheels of steel, the seminal rap group Non Phixon came out from behind the curtain. As Sabac established a dialogue with the crowd, Psycho Les of The Beatnuts inconspicuously made his way behind the turntables and picked up a microphone. What happened next was a surprise to everyone; at least those of us in the audience.
As JuJu, one half of The Beatnuts, was apparently missing in action, Psycho Les would be performing solo. Non Phixon would provide Les with vocal support filling in for JuJu, although no explanation was offered as to why JuJu was not present. “I see a lot of confused faces”, conceded Les, “as you can see somebody is not here tonight”. He did not elaborate. As the saying goes though the show must go on and the veteran definitely showed his poise. Flawlessly ripping through several tracks including Do You Believe and Off The Books, Les paused for a moment to introduce another special guest; “we gonna keep rockin’, we got another legend in the house for ya’ll tonight”.
With no warning Gregg Nice stormed the stage. Waving his arms in the air the animated MC set BB King’s ablaze. “I remember The Beatnuts from when me and Smooth Bee used to rip up shows. These guys would stand outside the show all night with a boombox”, expounded the Nice & Smooth frontman filling the fans in on some little known Hip-Hop history. With Psycho Les and Non Phixon still on stage, Gregg Nice performed his verse off DWYCK followed by an even more electric rendition of Hip-Hop Junkies. Two thousand people sang along to every single word as both women and men stood up on tables and chairs to get a better look.
Following the Gregg Nice cameo, Psycho Les concluded his set with a blazing rendition of Watch Out Now, yelling “Fuck J Lo! Fuck J Lo!” over the song’s chorus. Most in the crowd were more than happy to join in. In case you live under a rock and still don’t know; Jennifer Lopez jacked the beat from Watch Out Now for her hit single Jenny From The Block. Most people in attendance seemed to think The Beatnuts’ version was better though. Time for another intermission.
It was 2am when Kane hit the stage. Dude came out in a long white button down and matching pants – like something you seen Hugh Hefner wear around the Playboy mansion – shit was serious. Rocking a matching white top hat Kane sipped water out of a huge gold encrusted glass with his name on it; you could feel his aura right away. Forget rap, this cat made you feel like you were watching a real star. Opening up with an energetic rendition of ‘Nuff Respect, the Brooklyn bred MC thanked the capacity crowd for their support before breaking into some new previously unheard material. Truth be told, Kane’s new verses sounded so on point it was scary. How were we ever led to believe that anyone with so much skill and poise on the mic could have possibly fallen off? Never again.
In true Hip-Hop fashion Kane followed with a lengthy tribute to some of rap’s fallen soldiers. “Usually when we mourn someone we have a moment of silence. This is Hip-Hop, fuck that; let’s have a moment of noise instead!” Declaring multiple moments of noise for Jam Master Jay, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Big Pun and Big L, Kane engaged the fans by giving background on each artist before revealing their identity. “This was a man who opened the doors for a lot of people as far as getting endorsement deals and having their videos on MTV”, he said before declaring a moment of noise for Jam Master Jay. “Another cat who left us far too early; too early to even see the success of his album; I see by all the L’s up in the air ya’ll already know who I’m talking about. Put those L’s in the air and let’s have a Hip-Hop moment of noise for Big L!” The crowd erupted again.
After performing several more cuts including Smooth Operator, Kane brought pioneering female rapper Sweet T out onto the stage. “This is the 35 and over club up here”, joked T before spittin’ a cappella to the delight of the crowd. But this would not be the only surprise Kane had in store; next he would summon Foxy Brown from behind the curtain, few could have expected this. “And she flew in all the way from L.A. to be here”, Kane boasted with a smile. Showing Brooklyn love Foxy spit a freestyle that didn’t seem to rhyme much but sounded gangsta nonetheless. It was nice to see a new school artist paying homage to one of the all-time greats, definitely something positive for the fans to take away.
Kane wrapped up the rest of the show by doing several more joints including the classic Ain’t No Half Steppin’. The finale was a fever pitched rendition of Warm It Up Kane during which the MC jumped off stage and made his way through the crowd. With people practically hanging off him, Kane maneuvered through the sea of swarming fans, mic in hand, spittin’ without missing a single beat. He jumped back on stage just as the song ended. Before anyone had a chance to gather themselves he was already gone.
Big Daddy Kane came up in an era when rap music and Hip-Hop were not respected. Every time an MC got up on a stage, he or she had to prove that rap wasn’t just a fad. Critics were looking to call you out around every corner and rappers were constantly being criticized for not being truly “talented”. Rap music was not embraced the way it is today. Maybe that’s why Kane’s show was so well put together. You know how you go to a Hip-Hop show and the rapper’s DJ be constantly fuckin’ up? Kane’s DJ didn’t fuck up once. There was not one moment of dead air. Not one misstep. Not one word misspoken. To all these rappers that come out on stage with like fifty dudes and no game plan; ya’ll need to recognize what a real Hip-Hop show is all about. Long live the Kane.