Review of Boston’s 2011 Hip-Hop Unity Fest

[Originally published in the Boston Herald. All kinds of people caught feelings about this one. Oh well.]

The world didn’t end on Saturday, but a rapture of a different kind swept over hip-hop heads at the Paradise that night.

The fifth annual Boston Hip-Hop Unity Fest had emcees from multiple styles and stages of notoriety rocking the same stage, with famed producer DJ Premier closing out the night in tribute to Gang Starr comrade and Roxbury-born wordsmith Guru.

The rap marathon’s massive lineup almost proved too stacked, as the lengthy roster ran long and Premier was forced to shorten his 90-minute set to just half an hour.

The four-and-a-half hour show featured Dorchester rappers Mark Merren and Dre Robinson, Cambridge rhyme slinger Millyz, rap collectives City Slickers and Usual Suspectz and femcees Sheek and Letia Larok – who was brave enough to take the stage alone.

The same couldn’t be said for a number of crews who, under the guise of “getting it crunk,” crowded the stage with unfamiliar faces and random dudes bobbing their heads in front of the DJ, making their lyrics virtually inaudible amidst the five hype men shouting over them.

If some of the early acts fell victim to hip-hop cliches, later acts put on a performance clinic. Rap duo 7L and Esoteric schooled youngsters on the art of bling-free rap, closing out a tight set with “No Shots.” Supergroup Special Teamz – comprised of Slaine, Jaysaun and Unity Fest organizer Edo G – swarmed the stage and justified their self-proclaimed status as “Three Kingz.” R.E.K.S delivered his signature brand of intensity and virtuoso lyricism, while Termanology spat and bounced furiously with what appeared to be half of Lawrence behind him.

By the time the brilliant Premier took the helm, about half the venue had cleared out. He squeezed in a run-through of tracks he produced for everyone from Nas to Big L, invited Smiley the Ghetto Child onstage for “The Realness” and included a few gems from the Gang Starr catalog, among them “Mass Appeal” and “The Militia,” for which Mattapan emcee Big Shug spat his verse.

It seemed a great injustice to have the genius DJ’s set shortened in favor of a drawn-out lineup with some glaring holes, but if that’s the price of unity, so be it.

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