Saturday Night: Rakim at Fitzgerald's
Photos by Amanda J. Cain
Rakim Fitzgerald's February 16, 2013
In the beginning, The God MC, legally known as William Michael Griffin, Jr., best known as Rakim, became one-half of one of hip-hop's very first groups, Eric B. and Rakim. The pair recorded a series of classic albums (Paid in Full, Follow the Leader) that have reverberated throughout the hip-hop collective for generations.
On Saturday night, early Sunday morning, at nearly 1 a.m., Rakim walked casually onto Fitzgerald's stage, paralleling his unhurried, unruffled rhyme style.
Everything about Rakim is calm: calm expression, calm voice, calm flow, and the three combined on opening hits "In The Ghetto," "It's Nothing" and "Mahogany" were like a trip down memory lane for true lovers of hip-hop's old-school, an era when mere mention of gold grills and spinning wheels would have been laughable.
It was good.
Rakim is like a best friend who comes over to your house to finish an already juicy conversation -- only in this case, the conversation began 20 years ago.
He performed cuts from classics Paid in Full and Follow the Leader, also reminding the audience Don't Sweat the Technique. His quiet ability to Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em was captivating, too; it caused one to ponder how potent the performance would've been had Eric B.'s presence been there to hit 'em as well.
With Rakim and his partner came the golden age of rap. With them also came other '80s rap acts, including DJ Marley Marl, LL Cool J, Mc Lyte, Kool G. Rap, Large Professor, Big Daddy Kane and other old-school way-makers spun by DJ Nimbus during the opening hours of the vet's performance.
The spins were good. The 30-and-over crowd partied nostalgically for nearly two hours before any rap acts had even hit the stage.
DJ iPod Ammo, not to be "outspun," ushered in the '90s and early '00s rap era, with Notorious B.I.G., Kriss Kross and Queen Latifah circling 'round his booth. Imagine the cast of House Party still busting those same Kid 'n Play moves, only 20 years older and this time nearly falling over on geriatric joints.
Okay, no more old jokes.
Opener Roosh Williams tried his best to bring things back to the present with a presentation of dizzying lyrics. Unfortunately, faced with an audience just hype off of the PG-13 lyrics of yesteryear, Williams' cocky and explicit trade-ins -- no matter how many times he comically reminded them that his name was just "like swoosh, with the r" -- had no effect. The audience had quieted down.
H.I.S.D. (HUEston Independent Spit District) fared better; possibly the group's identification with the largest school district in the city or the family-friendly flows to a house full of parents are what prompted louder cheers.
It was hard not to get pissed about four hours of wait time -- my goodness, how the women in six-inch heels must have felt! -- but the anticipation worked like a 14 karat gold car pendant once Rakim finally got onstage.
Sure, it was All-Star weekend. Sure, there were other celebrities ambling about town. But the hip-hop purists in the room would've waited a week to witness one of the men responsible for the genesis of their favorite genre.
Even for the uninitiated, hearing not old-school ("I ain't old-school; I've just been around a long time," Rakim insisted) jams delivered with wit and crystal clear enunciation during a time when 2 Chainz's bumbling elementary yarns reign supreme was an otherworldly experience. As Rakim rapped on his solo single with DJ Premier, "It's Been A Long Time."
In the end, it was all good.
Personal Bias: So many hip-hop artists in Houston this past weekend, and not one of them stopped by to visit the one responsible for their very existence. Shameful.
The Crowd: 30-50-year-olds
Overheard in the Crowd: "Go DJ! Go DJ!"
Random Notebook Dump: I didn't know middle-aged people smoked weed!