Black August Benefit (Concert)

Artist: Concert ReviewTitle: Black August Benefit (Concert)Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Robert Longfellow

Who says conscious rappers can’t get down? This year’s 9th Annual Black August Hip-Hop Benefit Concert was held on Sunday, August 13 at New York City’s BB Kings in Times Square. The sold out show proved to be equally entertaining as enlightening.

Hosted by poet/author Mahogany Browne with Black Moon’s DJ Evil Dee throwing in music between sets, the show had a celebratory vibe to underlie the seriousness that is the work of the show’s organizer, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM). The Black August Hip-Hop project aims to “support and politicize the culture of our generation and use it to aid in the struggle for human rights.”

Opening act United Front must have gotten the memo. They began their show by saying, “Who do you blame, Hurricane Katrina or FEMA?”; effectively summing up the politically charged intentions of Black August. This year’s concert was dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina as well as political prisoners.

After United Front, CL Smooth received a warm reception. Offering selections from his upcoming album but getting the greatest applause when running through old joints like “Take It There”, “Straighten It Out” and “They Reminisce Over You”. The savvy vet lived up to his billing even without that producer he fell out with. The strangest performance of the night went to the Beatnuts. While Psycho Les did double duty as DJ and MC, he was without his partner Ju Ju. Two other cats with him on stage pretty much had mics. Nevertheless, cuts like “Off The Books” and “No Escapin’ This” kept the crowd motivated, even though a new track with a crass chorus [She got an ass like…] didn’t fit the righteous vibe of the night.

Lord Jamar and Sadat X of Brand Nubian were up next and represented well. Going through cuts from their prospective solo albums and classic joints from their catalog including, “All For One” and “Punks Jumps Up To Get Beat Down” before closing out with “Slow Down”.

Before M-1 hit the stage, Browne introduced Immortal Technique who proceed to rip another trademark, acappella verse, the usual. The crowd thus ready for M-1, who came out flanked by the A-Alikes, and sporting a jacket with an image of Fidel Castro on the back. Besides hitting all the key dead prez material he also found time to lend the microphone to Poor Righteous Teacher’s Wise Intelligent, who performed “Rock Dis Funky Joint” and also Boston’s Ed O.G. who proceeded to kick “Be a Father To Your Child” and “I Gotta Have It” to raucous applause.

Before the surprise guests hit the stage, time was taken out to give due to some of the elders in attendance. Also, throughout the evening video highlighting MXGM’s work played on the screens that flanked the stage.

The first surprise guest, who has been a supporter of the Black August concert since its inception, was Talib Kweli. Jumping on stage with just a DJ and no hype man, Kweli delved into cuts ranging from “I Try” from last year’s The Beautiful Struggle to “Listen” from his upcoming new album Eardrum. J Sands of Lone Catalyst came out to drop a first as did his old rhyming mate MC Fre of Duo Live who started off slow but redeemed himself by the time he gave up the mic. Closing with “Get By” there was a short break while the stage prepared for the second surprise, The Roots. With all members in tow—other than Malik B—Black Thought and the gang ran through cuts from their new dinger Game Theory, including the title track, All In the Music and “Don’t Feel Right” before hitting staples like “Stay Cool”, “You Got Me” and “Proceed”.

The night’s line up wasn’t exactly atypical of the stereotypical incense burning, dreadlock wearing, progressive minded crowd. But instead of the acts letting disdain for mainstream caricature rappers dominate their dialogue, as happens at similar events, they kept busy providing good music. A worthy cause indeed.

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