August 9, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 52
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Hip-hoppers give Peace a chance

Lauren Carter

It was probably the only place you’d find hip-hop artists noticeably avoiding curse words and praising a local government official while on stage.

At least, since the last festival.
Held last Saturday at City Hall, the Peace Boston 2007 Hip-Hop Festival, produced by Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, attracted thousands of attendees, lasted over four hours and celebrated the hip-hop art form while promoting a message of peace and unity through music.

The environment was both child-friendly and diverse, with a variety of ages, ethnic backgrounds and personal styles represented, and artists noticeably respecting the family environment by eliminating negative words and messages from their sets.

The event featured a variety of acts leading up to legendary headliners De La Soul and Slick Rick, including the dance troupe Funk Phenomenon, who popped and locked over cuts ranging from Digable Planets to the Notorious B.I.G., local rapper Omega Red, and Sullee — you may remember him from ego trip’s “The (white) Rapper Show” on VH1 — who described himself as “pure hip-hop with a little bit of rock” and delivered an impressive a capella spit session following the musically-backed portion of his performance.

Promoting a message of peace in hip-hop is as good for hip-hop and its fans as it is for local government; Menino took the stage at one point to thank the sizable crowd for turning out and encourage them to promote positivity and peace after leaving.

In addition to some of the more unique aspects of the free concert, there were, of course, the familiar facets of hip-hop on display — artists splashing water on fans, call and response tactics (“When I say ‘hip,’ you say ‘hop’”) and hundreds of hands waving in unison, as was the case during Dorchester lyricist Frankie Wainwright’s growly, high-energy set.

The group 4Peace, which included show host Edo. G, lived up to its name by denouncing “garbage” on the radio, lacing up tight metaphors about the importance of positive music, and taking it back to the literal essence of the form by bringing a bongo drum onstage for a solo with record-scratching in the background.

The next generation of hip-hoppers also got their shine, as teens Justin “Jae Guttah” McGibbon, Nicholas “Phantom” Garcia, and Jacob “Icee Jake” Bragg, winners of a hip-hop songwriting contest co-sponsored by Berklee College of Music and Essence magazine, each got to perform their winning song.

It’s also worth noting that Saturday’s festival was probably the only place you’ll hear a DJ set in which The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” is mixed with Timbaland’s “Give It To Me,” the Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” leads into to “Oh My God” by A Tribe Called Quest, or Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” gives way to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”

The show also featured an impressive set from New York City beat boxer Kenny Muhammad, a.k.a. “The Human Orchestra,” who seemed to defy the laws of physics as he recreated popular beats in styles ranging from Timbaland to techno music using only his mouth.

Clearly, by the time hip-hop legends De La Soul took the stage, the audience was primed.

The Long Island, N.Y., threesome served up everything from “Potholes In My Lawn” off their acclaimed 1989 debut “3 Feet High and Rising” to “Stakes is High,” the title track from their fourth album. Even more impressive were 2004’s “The Grind Date” and 2000’s “Oooh.”

Few artists can say they’ve been in the game for almost two decades, and even fewer can say they’ve consistently promoted a message of peace and unity even as the trend peaked and passed. But both are true of De La Soul, who displayed the eccentricity for which they are known with tracks like the peppy, appropriately titled “A Rollerskating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” and their smash hit “Me, Myself and I.”

One of the most rewarding segments of the show was the DJ set before Slick Rick’s performance, which could have qualified as “Hip-Hop 101” and likely taught most in attendance where many of their favorite rap songs got their original beats.

As the crowd prepared for hip-hop’s premier storyteller to emerge, they were treated to the likes of Whodini, Nice & Smooth, the Diana Ross classic “I’m Coming Out” (famously sampled on the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems”), Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Earth, Wind & Fire, LL Cool J, Rakim, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, The Jackson 5, Parliament-Funkadelic, Public Enemy and even the late “Godfather of Soul” James Brown.

The track selection not only qualified as a certified hip-hop history lesson, but was also appropriately timed before the appearance of pioneer Slick Rick, who got a well-deserved hero’s welcome as he strolled out wearing a blue Kangol hat and matching pants, lime green shirt, a white eye patch and a multitude of gold chains.

The master rapper, who has influenced the flows of more than a few MCs, broke the art form down to its basic elements with “Mona Lisa,” a verse from Outkast’s “Da Art of Storytellin’” and the classic “La Di Da Di,” which was later remade by Snoop Dogg. Just as in the original, Slick Rick was backed only by a beatboxer, and yes, fans still knows all the lyrics.

The classic “Children’s Story,” a freestyle over Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm,” “Hey Young World” and “Teenage Love,” a story of lost love and painful lessons learned, could have served as an instructional session on how to command the microphone.

At 42, Slick Rick still managed to shimmy and gyrate around the stage with ease, especially while he led the crowd through a battle between the “old school” and “new school” of hip-hop. Songs like Jim Jones’ “We Fly High” were matched up against House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” with the audience reaction indicating the winner. In the end — not only in that competition, but also for the four-plus hours the festival was in effect — the old school won by a landslide.

Maseo and Dave of De La Soul remind us that from time to time, we all need somebody to lean on. The legendary Long Island, N.Y., hip-hop outfit shared headlining duties with Slick Rick at last Saturday’s Peace Boston 2007 Hip-Hop Festival. The festival, produced by the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, was held at City Hall Plaza. (Gwendolyn Rodriguez photo)

(Top) Local hip-hop outfit 4Peace, who made headlines last year when their song “Start Peace” got the attention of politicians like Mayor Thomas M. Menino, hype the crowd during last Saturday’s Peace Boston 2007 Hip-Hop Festival. (Cagen Luse photo)

(Bottom) Even at the ripe old age of 42, hip-hop legend Slick Rick — he of the jewel-encrusted eye patch, the lopsided Kangol and the dazzling necklaces — is still the master of the art of storytelling. The Ruler proved just that last Saturday. (Cagen Luse photo)

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