Who: Dave Chappelle, The Roots, Kanye West, Kool G Rap, Jill Scott, Freeway, Fred Hampton Jr., dead prez, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, The Fugees and others.
Where: Brooklyn, NY When: September 18, 2004
For years, critics and die-hard fans alike have proclaimed that hip-hop is dead, but Dave Chappelles Block Party in Brooklyn helped put that fatal notion to sleep. Because after the show the comic organized, one thing is glaringly obvious- Hip-Hop is alive and well.
On the stormy Saturday September 18 on a Brooklyn side street, some of hip-hops most relevant and profound performers and its greatest supporters gathered for one of the most historic shows to date. The show was bestowed with the energy of legendary shows like Watts Stax and Woodstock, as fans and artists braved ominous weather that resembled the hurricanes that have recently ravaged the Caribbean and the South. The revealers withstood in the rain, rocking ponchos with flyness to bear witness to Dave Chappelles vision: a present day block party, to be documented and put on DVD with his favorite acts in hip-hop. A highly confidential event, Chappelle reportedly put up $3 million of his own bread make the show happen.
A live band, headed up by ?uestlove of the Roots who also served as Musical Director for the show, served as the accompaniment to the All-Star roster which was sparked off with the Louis Vuiton Don Kanye West who managed to job get the party started along with Freeway, despite the unfavorable weather.
Hip-Hop revolutionaries dead prez followed, cranking up the energy levels with joints like Turn Off the Radio and Hip-Hop. The group ended their set on a high point by bringing out Black Panther Fred Hampton Jr., who spoke some words of insurrection and upliftment to the diverse crowd of hundreds that listened intently.
Changing up the pace of the show, adding in a little R&B styling, Erykah Badu took the stage in a huge afro wig that crowned her face. By the end of her first song, the wind blew fierce enough to move the DJs needles and shift Miss Badus hair-piece. Suddenly, without warning she had snatched it off revealing a semi locked, semi natural, semi knotted head of hair. Nevertheless, he performed On and On and a rousing rendition of Other Side of the Game with just as much poise as she possessed when she first stepped on stage. She capped her set off with Love of My Life and ex-fiance Common joined her on stage to say his verse on the track. The appearance deaded any perception that there was conflict between the former couple.
Between each set, Dave Chappelle addressed the audience, making jokes and keeping the mood fun and beef free. The weather conditions improved as Jill Scott took the stage, starting with a rock-n-roll rendition of The Way and performing new material from her latest album. While she started heavy, Jill eventually provided a level of mellowness to the show, a needed breather.
But, before the extravaganza caught its second wind, The Roots astonished the crowd. Black Thought and company broke into Boom!, a joint on The Tipping Point on which he impersonates the Golden Era icons Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. Unexpectedly, Kane and G Rap marched on stage to a burst of screams and Oh S***s! The 80s idols spit their verses from the track and also laced the crowd with hits like Poison, Warm It Up Kane, and Raw. As if a pair of legends wasnt sufficient, the Roots finalized their set with You Got Me, but flipped it by having Jill Scott sing the lush hook she originally wrote. However, the tune climaxed with Badu, the original songs singer, joining her on stage and two soul divas belted the lyrics.
As nightfall came, the show was far from over. The crowd remained thick and showed no signs of weariness even though the concert had already carried on for close to 6 hours. The audience was greeted by Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common who took the stage and traded off with tracks from the respective catalogues. Common ranged from Resurrections I Used to Love H.E.R. to Like Water for Chocolates The Light, where he was joined onstage by Badu and crooner Bilal. Mos Def and Talib Kweli then spun back into their BlackStar efforts like Definition and Respiration.
Kweli performed his new single I Try from his upcoming album Beautiful Struggle. Talibs voice appeared to fade due to hoarseness and fatigue. That was no longer evident when the bass line for Get By began to thump. With an apparent shot of adrenaline, spit the entire joint with the crowd with him quoting every adlib and singing every note of the hook. Mos Def, another Brooklyn rep, got into the groove of is his set, with new joints off his upcoming album, but also took his career way back to his days with The Lyricist Lounge via Ultra Magnetic. With the crowds fists in the air, the set ended with Mos Umi Says with the closing lines, I want Black People to be Free, to be Free, to be Free
After another thirty minutes of waiting, Dave Chappell announced what will truly make history. Chappelle came on stage and said, Originally the final act was going to be Lauryn Hill, but unfortunately Columbia would not clear her songs. Luckily she came up with an alternative. Ladies and Gentleman, The Fugees. The surprise shot across the crowd like rounds from an AK as Wyclef, Pras, and L Boogie took the stage together for the first time in over 5 years. The performance was stunning and appeared that they never separated, as if they never spit bars against each other, or spoke nasty towards each other in magazines.
The Nappy Heads held down the stage like the great music they have come to exemplify. They careened through hits like Fu Gee La, Killing Me Softly, and Ready or Not. At one point, Clef addressed the audience saying, I think we need to clear up a rumor. He then took center stage and played the guitar line of Nirvanas Smells Like Teen Spirit to which Lauryn began spitting Lost Ones, a song clearly about Clef. Hill even mushed Clef in the middle of the verse. Their unified energy was unlike any other. And that force emanated through the crowd, who sang, leapt and screamed in Bucktown. No guns, but there were plenty of symbolic shots licking off throughout the crowd, when the Dirty Jerz trio executed a rendition of Ready or Not, sound clash style.
The show ended with all parties re-entering the stage as Cody Chestnutt, clad in an ornate velvet robe, backed the emcees that spit random bars of fury. Eventually, the mics were turned off supposedly due to permits running their legal course.
Though it was far from a church service, the day-long festival was like a revival of sorts. Hands in the air, voices raised, the beat pulsating double time, under the open sky. Like an organ, hip-hop blared and stared into the face of the future, connected with the power of the past, and spoke to the present letting us know that it was too early for us to lose faith in it.
Long Live Hip-Hop.