June twentieth. Two-thousand-and-nine. Empire Fulton Ferry State Park. Tobacco Warehouse. Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn. Bodega.
According to the forecast there was an 83% chance of rain. By 1pm, rain clouds filled the stratosphere filling the air between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, leaving a blunted (pun intended) impression on The New York City skyline. And although this day would remain overcast and lightly saturated, by festival's end, Brooklyn Bodega made it thunderstorm.
The 5th Annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival (BHF) pimp-slapped-Mother-Nature-Charlie-Murphy-style, packing the tent erected in the center of the largest roofless room in the 19th century Tobacco Warehouse all-rainy-day-long. Anyone who stepped outside after Styles P stepped off-stage likely missed Pharoahe's raucous finale. In fact, Brooklyn Bodega anticipated a 50% decline in attendance. They expected people to find dryer refuge given the less than ideal weather conditions. They overestimated. Heads came out for Hip Hop. And they got their money's worth.
This year's BHF bosted a 2-stage format (condensed onto one stage) - 2nd Stage and Main Stage. 2nd Stage - hosted by Homeboy Sandman (The Mayor) - featured rising local artists including two of the three winners of the Bodega's successful Show & Prove series. Main Stage featured more established acts, including April Show & Prove winners Brown Bag Allstars, DJ J.Period, dead prez, Styles P, and festival headliner Pharoahe Monch. All in all, Brooklyn Bodega packed two stages and twenty-plus acts into one Hip Hop dedicated eight-hour window. To see it was to feel it.
Second Stage Highlights
Corona, Queens natives (and March Show & Prove victors) Children of Night cooly kicked off the Second Stage lyrical festivities with the minimalistic, snare-heavy “Time Out”, the bouncy, bar-trading “100 Percent”, and sublime, Summer-time-ready, set closer, “151”. Rocking to a larger than anticipated audience (considering weather, festival crowd tendency to increase in density as the day progresses, and BHF’s of years’ past, this year’s 1pm audience was much larger than expected), Lansky, Versa, and Remy Banks roamed the stage like kids exploring a new playground. Judging by crowd response, COTN had those in attendance “chillin’ to the Children of the Night.”
“Intricate and focused like a Kung-Fu master. / Bring the daily out like the weather forecaster.” - Eagle Nebula
Brooklyn resident, Eagle Nebula, walloped the stage with inspired lyricism and an appreciated B-Girl swag reminiscent of that era when both genders had to come spit game tight to gain respect.
May Show & Prove winners, Brokn.Englsh once again commanded a high octane performance laced with increasingly crowd favorites. Brick City’s Cion Burris, Myk Dyalek, and Lyriq2Go honed the formula for a dope live show - chemistry, energy, clarity, showmanship. The nostalgic “I Remember My First Time” and the anthemic “Make Some Noise” (complete with its own old school dance break down) incited immediate head-nods throughout the tent. And the crowd showed love for their closing ode “Thank You For Being A Friend” (a la the theme song from Golden Girls). Much respect.
“I’m the underdog that finally gets the girl.” - Nyle
Nyle left his mark on this year’s BHF. The less-than-five-foot-nine-inch recent NYU graduate marched in kicking confident rhymes over the cascading live production (courtesy of his accompanying 3 piece band) of Lil‘ Wayne’s “Let The Beat Build” delivering a near-pristine remix. Dreadlocks dangling underneath his teal colored fitted hat, white-T with matching teal image emblazoned across the front hanging over his loose fit jeans - Nyle hit the stage packing lighting in his mic. His anthemic ode to the object of his affection, “XMAN” (doubling as an ill extended metaphor using actresses and cartoon characters to describe a chick who won’t stop “talking ‘bout her ex man”) garnered immediate crowd response. And his raucous set closer “Make Some Noise If You Wit’ Me” made it crystal clear that Nyle is one to check for. Definitely the most dynamic set of the Second Stage.
Main Stage Highlights
Show & Prove Series champion Brown Bag Allstars did what they do best - bum rush the stage spewing virulent energy and lyrical skill. DJ E-Holla, Soul Khan, Koncept, J-57, and The Audible Doctor acted as frontmen for this performance, bobbing and weaving across stage like Tyson in his prime - all offense, all intent to knock out the audience. And they delivered. Set opener “1, 2, 3, 4” laid the groundwork early, and the prevailing “When I Start To Drink” forced the tent masses to chant “Its like that, dattidy dat, da dat, dat.” By the time BBAS kicked the last bar on their infections “Gimme The Booze”, the bum rush was complete. Brown Bag Allstars showed and proved.
“N***** scared to get scorched. / They ain’t passin’ the torch. / Claimin’ the new n***** don’t really walk the walk / really talk the talk. / Really thats what they thought?” - Marco Polo & Torae
Lime green fitted T with a neon red silhouette of a figure hoisting an AK-47 skyward emblazoned vertically along the bottom left. Black New Era with Brooklyn scripted across the front. Brolic B-Boy demeanor. Hard-ass production. Marco Polo & Torae brought their rollicking harmony straight to the face. Throughout the set, Torae roamed solo like a veteran Emcee (swag heavy, earnestly comfortable, album clear delivery) while Marco Polo remained perched behind the tables like a Canadian mad scientist mischievously monitoring their bangerific soundscape. After a brief opening freestyle, Torae inducted the ruckus with “Double Barrel”, the title track from their debut collaboration. MP’s sick scratches were on full display on the head-nod inducing “Slam” sampled “But Wait”, while “Danger’s” sinister sirens rocked the crowd like it was 1994. The duo wrapped with Double Barrel’s lead single, “Party Crashers” - an apt ending to an amp performance.
DJ J.Period brought his world renowned Live Mixtape straight to the BHF tent. Hosting rap legends OC (from D.I.T.C.), the entire Brand Nubian Crew, and The Roots resident Emcee, Black Thought - J.Period ushered the crowd through an array of historic jams (both old and new) back-to-back-to-back. The climax came when Philly-bred Black Thought obliterated the mic with the debut of his remix of "Brooklyn We Go Hard". Few rock a party like J.Period.
“We just had little run-in with the punk-ass police...” - M-1
Stic.Man and M-1 hit the stage revolution ready. Primarily performing tracks from its recently released DJ Green Lantern produced mixtape, Pulse of the People, Dead Prez opened with the sublime “NYPD”, followed by the nostalgic and aptly entitled “Summer Time”, before taking “it back to Africa” with “Africa Hot”. Considering most in attendance had yet to hear the duo’s newest music, the crowd was certainly live. No doubt. Staying topical and true to form, Dead Prez harmonized “even though Obama’s in, Uncle Sam ain’t my friend” on the A-political “Politrikkks” before making the tent shake like a tribal rain dance with the anthemic closer, “Its Bigger Than Hip Hop”.
“Fuck the frail shit!” - Styles P
The festival’s most raucous performance belonged to Styles P. FACT. Sporting a hood certified, oversized white-T and backwards Yankee fitted - one-third of the Lox damn-near-shut-shit down, tearing through solo anthems “Locked Up”, “Can You Believe It”, and “I’m Black”, before bringing Black Thought back onstage to drop the first verse from the speaker-rattling “Get Busy”. Any perceived BHF bougieness evaporated the second (nearly) the entire D-Block crew hit the stage for “Wild Out” followed by a cut from the recently released No Security.
“I know theres a lot of police in the building. If you want to light a blunt, do what I do, go in the urinal. They ain’t goin’ in there.” - Styles P
Styles wrapped with the thumping “I Get High” before “We Gonna Make It's" chest rattling bass line closed out his performance. Every arm raised pumping to the beat. Every mouth chanting the contagious hooks. Styles P brought the gritty to BK. Who said the BHF is bougie?
Festival headliner Pharoahe Monch spared no time before bringing the ruckus. Green T-shirt. Afro-ed twists reaching outward. Focused lyricism. Pharoahe hit the stage like a rhyming Marcus Garvey. Opening with the anthemic, Public Enemy remake, “Welcome to the Terror Dome”, Monch’s uncanny Chuck D voice inflection is even more impressive live than on wax (Desire). The soulful soundscape and crashing snare on “Free” maintained momentum, and “Lets Go’s” groovy melody kept heads knocking throughout the festival grounds. From there, Monch brought it back to the early 2000s with his Mos Def assisted “Oh No” (unfortunately Black Dante was not in attendance), then a brief beat-boxing interlude introduced Milk D for a rare live performance of the Audio 2 classic “Top Billin’”. The crowd rapped the entire track before erupting at the sound of “Simon Says'” triumphant horns.
And then things went south.
Midway through “Simon Says’” opening hook, just as Pharoahe began to get into his groove, the DJ cut the music stating “They givin‘ us the boot, man. They tellin‘ us we gotta go, man!” Jubilance turned to jeers. The mere thought that someone, anyone would cut off a live performance of “Simon Says” is unacceptable. “Simon Says” is one of a handful of joints in existence capable of immediately igniting any party anywhere. FACT. Fortunately, Monch was allowed to kick the first verse and another hook before defiantly finishing his anthem. Rightfully so. Pharoahe Monch shut down the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, literally. Dope performance and a dope ending to a John-Blazing occasion.
Donny Goines, Chip Fu, Tanya Morgan, DJ Premiere, Smif-N-Wessun, Tiye Phoenix, Keys N Krates
Much respect due to the other performances not highlighted in this wrap up. Donny Goines, Chip Fu, Tanya Morgan, DJ Premiere, Smif-N-Wessun, Tiye Phoenix (with DJ Bizarro), Keys N Krates each put together solid performances, entertaining the audience throughout.
Homeboy Sandman continues to impress with his diverse showmanship. The Mayor split duty as Second Stage host and Main Stage performer. His poise, welcoming personality, and innate ability to engage the audience combined with his always appreciated, time-filling freestyle maintained interest during the festival’s earliest hours. Then, effortlessly shifting gears, the Pterodactyl soared during his solo set. His intricate, beat-imbedded, dynamic delivery clearly connected with the crowd despite the complexity in which written. Not many artists can take a beastly, multi-layered track like “Fantastic Incredible African” and deliver it effectively to the scattered tastes of fickle festival-goers. Homeboy Sandman is in a class to himself. Bravo.
Duck Down Records
Once again, Duck Down Records’ boasted a significant presence at this year’s Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. Buckshot Shorty, Sean Price, Heltah Skeltah, Kidz in the Hall, and several affiliated guest appearances have all graced the BHF stage in year’s past. This year, Torae & Marco Polo and Smif-N-Wessun fulfilled the mandate, and of course Buckshot Shorty was back again with another brief cameo. Considering Duck Down’s top tier stable of talent; its rich history and longevity as a label (circa 1994); and its locally owned business status - such prominence year after year is expected and, for the most part, appreciated. Duck Down gets it in live and has a massive Brooklyn following. Few labels sponsor a roster dedicated to progressive, boom-bap production and aggressive, lyrically focused, arguably gangsta-leaning content. Duck Down fills that void.
However, the BHF prides itself on hosting dope acts from across the Hip Hop spectrum. Brooklyn Bodega’s intent is to compile the most diverse line up possible. And in each of the past 4 years (at least), Duck Down has rocked as one of the most rugged acts on the bill (this year sharing that lane with Styles P). Are there any other acts that have been denied participation because of this category’s limited space? Rumor has it that Williamsburg’s own Joell Ortiz frequently petitioned for inclusion and was repeatedly rebuked because of the festival’s apprehension to hosting “too many gangsta acts.” Will this pattern continue in years to come? Has Duck Down locked-down the aggressive rap slots at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, boxing out other worthy (and wanted) acts?
Given the BHF's "family friendly" festival approach, each act has a stated mandate to censure any profane lyrics from the performed songs. The occasional "mother fucker" slipped through during previous years performances, but never as many as those emphatically exclaimed in 2009. dead prez contained themselves nicely, commanding the crowd to "put their middle finger in the sky" while slyly only raising their fists. But Styles P exhibited little qualm leading the ubiquitous "roll that shit, light that shit, smoke it" cheer or instructing the audience to "fuck the frail shit!" Pharoahe Monch was equally defiant, screaming "Get the fuck up!" repeatedly on "Simon Says." To the fans in attendance, and this writer specifically, hearing the "Parental Advisory" version of each performance adds to the organic nature and visceral appeal of the live show. Its part of what is expected when a ticket is purchased. What these impromptu moments of profanity mean for Brooklyn Bodega (City Parks Foundation imposed fines or other repercussions, perhaps) remains unclear. Either way, to see such a pronounced detour from the game plan was interesting and appreciated nonetheless.
Dope DJ’s. Ill Emcees. Nostalgic jams. History-claiming performances. Fresh.
Thwarting Mother Nature’s attempt to wash out the 5th Annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, Brooklyn Bodega once again assembled a potent, richly diverse, raucously entertaining 8 hours of Hip Hop goodness. All for only ten dollars. Rain or shine, asking for anything more is straight Bernie Madoff (greedy).