Kings of the Mic Tour
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
June 13, 2015
"I love this music, man! I'm not trying to play no Fetty Wap!", said Boom92 FM's DJ Rob G (The General) as he emceed part of the old-school hip-hop showcase on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon in The Woodlands. "There would be no New School if it wasn't for the Old School," he added. 'Nuff said.
And that's just it. Hip-hop is not all about the bling and the cars and the strippers. There was a time when the music was the focus, and the party revolved around the music, not the other way around. MCs actually took time to formulate concise and thought-provoking rhymes, and would never in a million years write a verse that stressed the same word three times in the same sentence. Before #hashtagrap, there was only rap, and Saturday a handful of the architects of rap took the stage to relive the glory days.
As I walked towards the venue after parking my car, I could hear the sweet sounds of the Sugar Hill Gang and The Furious 5 finishing up their opening set. With one classic hit after another, they offered up "Apache," "The Breaks" and "The Message" to a rather large early crowd. The crowd responded gleefully to hip-hop's earliest hit, "Rapper's Delight." To hear 5,000 people singing the infamous chorus was akin to hearing you mother tell you "I love you," or seeing the sunset for the first time.
"This crowd is amazing," continued Rob G. "Ain't nobody tryin' to fight! We are all just here to have a good time!" I must say, the audience was as perfect as you could ask for. They were motivated to sing and dance along, and were respectful of their surroundings. Its almost as if hip-hop raised them to be excellent and outstanding citizens. Take that, Bill O'Reilly!
Big Daddy Kane was next on the set list. Dressed in a dapper white suit and walking with quite the swagger, he continues to be the supremely smooth and confident player with ferocious rhymes who could at the same time be your best friend and steal yo girl. The Smooth Operator shouted out his fans who were more than 25 years old, then 35 years, then 40 years-plus. "Is real hip-hop in the building?!", he asked as he jumped into the crowd during "Raw". He also encouraged everyone to "stay focused and true to your game." A true showman, with the combination of looks, lyrics, and dance moves, he even jumped over one of his dancers and landed in the splits! He led the crowd to sing the chorus of "Ain't No Half Steppin,'" which resulted in goose bumps for this author.
Scarface is a busy man these days. After this show and his performance at Beer Fest on Sunday, that would make six shows in about as many days for the Geto Boy. What I love about a solo Face show is that he performs 'Smile," "Guess Who's Back" and "My Block," along with other solo songs not heard at Geto Boys shows. He reminds the crowd that "Me and Willie D was trick or treating" are the actual lyrics for "Mind Playing Tricks On Me." Again, the crowd sings along with their hometown hero, and all is amazing.
From Old School to New, as well as funk, soul and R&B, DJ Jazzy Jeff is a master on the turntables and creates mixes that make even the most seasoned music veterans throw their hands up in praise. The Philly native is a treasure of a performer, and I highly recommend downloading his mixes from his Web site.
Whodini continued the party with their electro dance moves and charismatic stage presence. They invited their friend Doug E. Fresh to beatbox along to their rhymes, and their mastery of the stage was evident in their set. From "One Love" to "Friends" to "Freaks," the greatness translated into an absolutely jammin' portion of the show. The dancing and the mood was similar to having your uncles go wild at a backyard barbecue, dancing against each other and ending in high fives and huge hugs.
"Its great to be back home!", said Flava Flav, who apparently lived in Houston for a few years in the late '90s and early '00s. He certainly looks fresh and healthy, a perfect complement to his brother-in-crime Chuck D. "As of 2013, Public Enemy is now part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame" stated Flav while showing the trademark clock dangling from his neck. "Y'all know what time it is!" Yes, Flav, it was time for some of the greatest tracks in rap history, such as "911 Is a Joke," "Don't Believe The Hype" and "Fight the Power," which were all performed with the same strength, heart and conviction as when we heard them more than 25 years ago. I ended up watching the rest of the show near the stage with Bun B and Jazzy Jeff, who were equally entranced by watching their heroes onstage as everyone else in the audience. Flav ended with a speech calling for the end of separatism: "No matter our differences, at the end of the day, we are all God's children! Fuck racism!" he declared. He then raised his hand with a peace sign, closed his fingers to represent togetherness, and lifted a fist to represent power. Some real powerful sentiments by one of the greatest groups of all time.
Now normally, headliners for these type of shows forgo sound checks and other formalities, opting to arrive within an hour of their set, perform, and leave right away. None of this was true for LL Cool J. I was told he was there hanging out all day backstage, eating the catering (including Frenchy's Chicken!), speaking to the other acts on the bill, and taking photos with fans and rappers alike. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to interview him during SXSW, and he was one of the nicest dudes you could ever meet. The same could be said for his DJ Z-Trip, a pioneer in his own right, who was equally as humble and approachable.
With LL, you get it all. You get the lights and the loudness, as well as the flames and the fireworks. He's there to make you move, dammit, and show you a good time. Even as he was suffering from some sort of leg injury (he showed the crowd his bandage as he took a few minutes to relax at the end of the show), he still danced and rapped with all of his heart and unmatched talent. He began with the haymaker "Mama Said (Knock You Out)" and didn't let up. Every LL song is a favorite; from the smooth and romantic jams to the club anthems that shook the rafters, he is the epitome of a superstar. And with Z-Trip cutting and keeping up with J's energy, there was nothing left to ask for.
He rocked our bells, and for that, we are eternally thankful.
Personal Bias: Old School is the best school. Learn ya history!
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The Crowd: As old and cool as hip-hop itself, with some youngin's in the mix.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Now that's REAL music right there! That track is a masterpiece!" — the lady sitting next to me just as Scarface performed "Fuck Faces." I certainly agree.
Random Notebook Dump: Definitely one of the best crowds I've ever experienced at a rap/hip-hop show. Looking forward to next year!
When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Marco points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston Music scene and beyond. You can follow his adventures on Instagram: @MarcoFromHouston.