Public Enemy, Hip Hop Gods reign supreme at Royale in Boston
You could say the all-stars aligned.
Sunday night at Royale, a diverse array of classic hip hop rulers staged a show that lasted more than four hours, mixing wisdom with entertainment and touching on everything from the Illuminati to the ills of commercial hip hop. Boston rap veterans Akrobatik and Edo G shared the stage with national legends. College professors in the crowd mingled with their students. And the only thing hanging from a rapper’s neck was a lanyard.
It was the Hip Hop Gods tour featuring headliner Public Enemy, with frontman Chuck D acting as emcee, host and hip hop professor. In between sets he chatted with artists, reminisced about early ’90s tours and schooled fans on all things hip hop, from Boston’s relevance in the rap scene to the meaning of the phrase “word is bond.”
“This is more than a concert,” he said. “It’s a movement.”
If typical rap shows are studies in misguided thuggery, Sunday’s spectacle was a reminder that the true tenets of hip hop – knowledge, wisdom, authenticity, skill and innovation — are alive and well. Rappers kept the energy high but never delivered empty verses, acting as teachers sent to uplift rather than fake gangstas sent to make it rain.
Trio Son of Bazerk delivered an animated opening set and sent one of many shoutouts to the late, great Guru. Dinco D of Leaders of the New School got calories burning with his verse from “Scenario” and Schoolly D — jacket open, no shirt on — delivered hard-hitting rhymes with a decidedly sexual edge. Brother J of X Clan had “no time for booty rap” as he focused on dropping knowledge and calling for unity, peace and justice.
Boston rap icon Akrobatik appeared on stage at Chuck D’s request and unleashed a rhyme that took aim at skinny jeans, corporate pimps, fantasies sold for profit and other evidence of hip hop’s downfall.
After his verse, Ak gave props to his rap idol.
“All I ever wanted to be is right there in front of you,” he said, pointing to Chuck D.
Monie Love reminded the audience that female rappers can remain relevant while fully clothed. Paying homage to females in hip hop, she celebrated femcees including Queen Latifah, Lil Kim and Salt-N-Pepa, invited Boston ‘brother’ Edo G on stage and spat slick verses from “Buddy,” “It’s A Shame” and “Monie In The Middle” that proved her mic skills haven’t slipped.
A set from Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers was among the night’s highlights, as he dropped blistering a cappella verses in between pushing albums and t-shirts.
“If you leave here without it,” he said of his merch, “you might as well go and buy 2 Chainz.”
Point taken. In roughly 20 minutes, Wise Intelligent managed to touch on Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records, the Illuminati , slavery, white supremacy, inner-city murder rates and failing public schools, eclipsing what the average rapper covers in an entire career. He also performed his new track “I Said It,” which proved to be an interesting mix of crunk and wisdom.
But of course, the night’s peak was the hour-long set from Public Enemy. For anyone who doesn’t count Lil Wayne as their personal hero, and maybe for some who do, it all felt epic. There was the giant banner with the in-your-face logo. The security-dance brigade S1W (Security of the First World) who alternately stood watch and engaged in their unique mix of dance and military drill. The thunderous and politically-charged music that changed the face of hip hop.
Chuck D bellowed over DJ Lord and a live band on tracks including “Welcome to the Terrordome,” “Bring the Noise,” “Can’t Truss It” and the set-closer “Fight The Power.” Quintessential hype man and sidekick Flavor Flav appeared in a mink coat, later pulled his signature giant clock from under his shirt and took center stage for “911 Is a Joke.”
Flav is obviously the quirky counterpoint to the hard rhyming Chuck D. But don’t let the clocks and reality TV stints fool you; under that viking hat there’s a revolutionary hiding. Flav closed with a sermon against hatred and reminded the audience that peace and togetherness create power.
“All God’s children need to stick together, seek peace and do away with racism and separatism,” he said. And with that, the show officially ended and fans bum-rushed the stage for autographs.
In one sense the concert felt like a throwback to the past, but it was also a vision of the future — the beginning of a movement dedicated to revitalizing hip hop and taking back the power and control that is rightly due to the gods.