While many during early September were in Philadelphia for Jay-Z’s Made in America Festival, another event was happening 400 miles away, and it was no less historic.
Akron, Ohio was the location for the Fifth Annual Akron Hip-Hop Showcase, and while the city was smaller in size, the show’s impact was not. Put on by Keepers of the Art, the annual showcase featured performances from De La Soul, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Special Ed, Jeru the Damaja, and Mick Boogie making this night of nostalgia feel more like New York in 1994 rather than Ohio in 2012.
“It was off the hook, man. It was a dope party tonight. I hope they keep it going,” Maseo of De La Soul said.
For the first time in a very long time, Pete Rock & CL Smooth hit the stage together on American soil and didn’t seem to miss a beat. Performing all of their classic hits together, the legendary duo prompted an audience of old school heads to reminisce in their glory days.
“I find it funny that the music that I made as a youth is still relevant today,” CL Smooth said. “It’s timeless, it’s outlasting, it’s doing the things it needs to do because we picked such rich music, and when everybody was going right, we were going left.”
By the time the producer/MC combo hit “T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You),” the crowd was loud, proud, and repeating every word Pete and CL transmitted through the speakers. The duo says they feel their message is one that is important and have always been in a position to speak for those who can’t.
“Any time you have a platform that you can talk to people in the masses, it’s your obligation to be a gentleman, to be a lady, to be responsible - not because of you, but because of the position you have. And so many people want to be in your position,” CL said.
Before the duo hit the stage, the showcase of legends began with an extremely live performance by Jeru the Damaja, as he performed classics like “One Day” and “Da Bitchez”, finishing with the prominent “Come Clean”, which received appropriate crowd reaction.
Special Ed subsequently continued to keep the show rolling, performing some of his more well-known songs.
The show finalized with a surprise as Dres from Black Sheep – and now EVITAN - made an appearance onstage during headlining De La Soul’s set and performed “The Choice is Yours” to an electric standing ovation from the audience. De La didn’t disappoint, trotting out anthem after anthem and finishing with “Me, Myself, and I.” All performers distributed their classic material as if it were Rock the Bells, and they helped remind those in attendance that timeless music never gets old.
“It makes the songs feel new again,” Maseo said. “We tour about six to eight months a year for the last 24-plus years, and songs can get old to you, you can get tired of doing the same stuff. But when the audience is out there engaging in the material and the show, it makes the songs sound fresh.”
With Keepers of the Art hosting the event, preserving Hip-Hop culture became an expressed concern by many of the acts performing. Hip-Hop music’s vibrancy has been growing ever since its commercial exploitation during the early 1990s, and now, its popularity is as high as ever. With this, a lot has changed in the genre and those who were on top during the “Golden Era” wanted to have their say in the matter.
“I think right now the scale is leaning heavy on business and that’s cool,” Trugoy of De La Soul said. “It’s good to see young dudes and women making money and launching some amazing things, but when you’re talking about music, it shouldn’t always be about the dollar.”
“I think what we do need is a bit of balance,” said Maseo. “If they can bring a little more creativity to the plate, take some more chances; you’ve got a lot of artists consciously going into corporations and delivering what the label wants.”
Production was also a focal point as the instrumentals of the night were a flashback but nothing short of inspiring. Sampling and record digging have slowly become less and less popular in Hip-Hop today but is only second nature to all of Hip-Hop’s greats.
“Coming from Pete Rock you’ll always hear something raw or funky, that’s just the way I am, that’s just the way I was raised,” Pete Rock said. “We grew up off of Isaac Hayes, Barry (White), James Brown, all the important groups. All of that did something to us when we were kids.”
The Hip-Hop Showcase was also a time for the artists to reminisce themselves providing a reminder of why they do what they love.
“I love these dudes, I can’t see myself doing it with nobody else,” Maseo said. “Overall, we came in with a common goal, to be a group, and we friends from high school. I’m not going to sugarcoat it like we don’t have our problems, but one thing about being family is being able to work through your trials and tribulations with any problems.”
“More than anything, I get acknowledged for something I did so long ago. It’s a lot of love, and that’s sincerely how I felt,” said Dres. “These are the cats you want to model yourselves after, they do real Hip-Hop. It’s never about how much money I spent on this chain or rims on a car that you’re never gonna own. It’s about relating to the people and bringing it forward.”
“It was about being unique, it was about being original and about being yourself,” CL Smooth said. “It’s hard work and dedication. What you put into something, that’s what you gonna get out of it. If you plan is to be the best basketball player than you gonna stay in the gym and shoot a thousand jump shots a night.
“There’s so many cats from my block that never leave it so it’s like taking them here to play land to see anything else so that’s the blessing of it.”