20 years ago, when RUNDMC, LL cool J and Slick Rick were the local Hip Hop virtuosos and Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep didn’t even exist yet things were surely very different. Back then Public Enemy wanted to fight the power, Cool James was singing praises for the ladies and Grandmaster Caz was still impressed with Kool Herc. The Hip Hop community was struggling to be recognized as a legitimate artistic movement and their fans were mostly living in subsidized housing, exchanging the latest records amongst each other. Hip Hop was the music of the underprivileged, lower class, often heavily discriminated against people.
A kid named Richard Walters moved to NYC from London at the age of ten. Even back then he was already wearing the eye patch from a childhood accident. About 10 years later he brought us ‘Children’s story’ and shortly after shot his cousin and a bystander. Although his accounts of the incident differ a bit from the authorities, he was about to become just another unfinished story. Fortunately for all Hip Hop lovers of those days and today, his passion for music did not die and neither did his cousin. He got 5 years for attempted murder. Before serving that sentence he managed to release another album and then one more, as soon as he was released. Nas, Wu-Tang members, Outkast and even Snoop Dogg joined him on that one. Unfortunately in 2002 he received the same love from the US as did Charlie Chaplin, courtesy of Edgar Hoover. Being born in another country Chaplin was not allowed back to the US after one of his trips back home. Slick Rick was simply arrested after coming back into this country, as he was not an American-born and had committed a violent crime.
Somehow serving 2 sentences: 5 years for attempted murder from ’89 to ‘94 and 17 months for… the same attempted murder, only ’02 to ’03, he still tours. His latest stop was BB Kings in NYC. The legendary storyteller, the Ruler of his craft didn’t only bring his classics to the fans. He brought a message with him. While it would have been more characteristic of acts like Public Enemy or perhaps the semi-political satire of Kanye West, Slick Rick joined the movement.
But first, in the typical Slick Rick fashions he made everyone wait an extra hour for a 30-minute set. Somehow the fans didn’t seem to care they were there to see the legend rock the mic and they would have waited another hour, if need be. Performing his classics like ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘La Di Da Di’ and the ‘Children’s story’ he made it all worth it for everyone. Then associating himself with the other Hip Hop classics he did a ‘Quite Storm’ freestyle as a prelude to the next step.
Then suddenly forgetting that he was the Ruler/entertainer, not caring about much but having fun, Slick Rick demonstration his Hip Hop consciousness. As his DJ span various records he provoked rather predictable reactions in the crowd. Playing a part of Busta’s ‘I love my chic’, his own comments could be attributed to nothing short of dissing the dreadless Bus hit. “I think you need someone younger to do that music” was his only comment but it got a lot of support from the fans. Then bringing Cypress Hill’s ‘Jump Around’ he also brought back the memories of those ‘good old days’. Next on his menu was Young Joc. While some were struggling with the concept of treating Busta as entirely new music, noone had a problem with making fun of ‘It’s going down’. TI’s ‘Lean w It’ was next. Rick did mellow and soften his attacks by saying: “Hey, if you like it you like it’, but the point was made. Talk about the old days, the feeling on the roof tops, the excitement of fresh beats and so on, just sealed the deal. Rocking the crowd the way ‘old school’ does, he put on a short but a real show.
With the clear celebrity of the night getting a lot done in the very short half an hour, Slick Rick wasn’t the only act of the night. The event was hosted by 105.1 and DJ Red Alert hosted it. He also brought Pete Rock on stage for a few moments. There were two other performances on stage that night. Naledge, a Rawkus artist, from the south side of Chi-town showed his skills first. DJ ‘00’ spun 4 him. Naledge opened with some spoken word, demonstrating his lyrical prowess, playing with words like a real prodigy and supporting his city to the fullest extend possible, only missing a backpack (is that the typical Chi-town attribute for a Hip Hop artist now?). His new 21-song album ‘The Crown Jewels’ is coming out and he did several songs from it. On one of them he finds himself in a colabo with another Chi-town finest, Lupe Fiasco. Talking him up he explained the difference between Lupe’s west side of Chicago vs Naledge’s south side. People clearly knew his stuff, as some totally random fans sang along. He might not spell his name that way, but he left reminding everyone that ‘Knowledge is power’.
The next act was an unusual one indeed. Lanz is a 16 year old rapper signed to Interscope. Her specialty is not R&B, soft ballads or the new pop Hip Hop we’ve come to expect from the Def Jam artists. She spits harsh lines, crosses her fingers ‘gansta’, while on stage and raps in a coarse voice. While her self-wrote lyrics come across more than harsh on most occasions, she also uses big words like ‘metrosexual’ in them. While it is clear that she is still very much underdeveloped as a rapper she is definitely a childhood phenomenon of a kind. Switching between singing in her choruses and rapping other lines, she has certainly thought through her performance. At the same time, her behavior is nothing like that of a little girl. ‘I’m used to the mixed reaction.’ she says. ‘I’m a little white girl in a skirt. But it’s all about what’s in your soul.’ Going off gansta-style and talking of drugs, booze and sex in her lines came across in a most unexpected fashion. Hooks like ‘I feel so good… I feel so hood…’ are rather elementary for a child prodigy and come across a tad unjustified given her age. Afterall, the very knowledge of gansta rap has always implied having some sort of a gansta past. Her hit ‘Little girl’ brought a conscious theme with and basic but workable lyrics. Unfortunately the young voice of a 16 year old girl refused to carry it properly.
Dealing with a discriminating crowd at BBK that came to see Slick Rick has never been an easy affair. Despite doing a spoken word at the end, being that storytelling was the theme, she finished it off by saying ‘I’m a bad bitch’ and immediately got booed. Lanz’s mom could not believe it. “We’ve been everywhere, in South Bronx, different parts of BK, but never got that reaction.” She said after the show. Well, Lanz’s next stop is Lollapalooza. Somehow I doubt the crowd’s adverse reaction will slow her down.