August 6, 2009. Southpaw Music and Entertainment. Park Slope. Brooklyn.
Its 9:12pm and there are 4 people in line outside of Southpaw - a dreadlocked cat rockin’ a white T and Yankee fitted, two youngins splitting a Newport and a mini freestyle session only audible to those within arms reach, and yours truly, The Company Man. The weather couldn’t be better - eighty-three degrees, not too humid, not a cloud in the sky - exactly what you’d want for an early August evening. “Doors: 9PM” read the flyer. They’re 12 minutes late. According to one bouncer (that shall remain nameless) as he steps outside to survey the anticipation, this is “not a good start.”
The Rock The Block Fest is a 2 night Hip Hop event - featuring The Metermaids, NSR, and headliner Styles P on the first night, and Kimberly Nichole, Hezekiah, and Freeway on the second night - put together by Forever Fresh, sponsored by FADER, Brooklyn Bodega, Heineken, End of the Weak, and a few others. Tickets are on the high side - $15 in advance, $20 at the door, $30 for both nights in advance. Considering New York’s own Styles P is this night’s headliner, prime location, and the ideal weather conditions, the early turnout is less than expected. But that doesn’t mean those in attendance didn’t get their moneys worth. Lets run through it. One time for your mind...
10:05PM - DJ Rob
Trekking all the way from Tel Aviv, Isarael, DJ Rob (of Soulico) opened the festivities spinning a mash up of reggae jams and assumed international favorites - non of which seemed to excite any of the 40-some early arrivers. Sporting perhaps the worst possible hypeman for the occasion (severe lack of charisma, confidence, and crowd command), DJ Rob received a handful of perplexing looks and near complete disregard from the scattered gathering. Honestly, it wasn’t his fault. From the sound of his set, DJ Rob is one talented spinmeister. Its just that something didn’t resonate with the audience, and his hypeman provided little assistance. Apparently DJ Rob is huge in Israel.
10:28PM - The Metermaids
Rocking to the largest crowd at this point in the night, The Metermaids hit the stage packing dynamite in their mics. “Rap’s Bad News Bears” unleashed their funky rock-rap brand of Hip Hop on the rapidly filling venue. The sublime “Whiskey Rut” with its sing-a-long hook ignited the audience, while “Take Your Shades Off” (complete with “Sweet Home Alabama”-like guitar riff and kinda-corny chorus) had the whole spot chanting ‘I wanna see your eyes! Hey!‘ Although the duo has only been around for a little over two years, Swell and Sentence move the crowd like seasoned Emcees. Ample energy. Ample stage presence. The Metermaids dedicated their final track to Bernie Madoff, leaving only a welcoming audience behind.
11:18PM - NSR
“If I really look like Adrien Brody / I’ll play him on Broadway and win a Tony.”
NSR belongs on stage. His natural charisma and ability to connect with an audience is apparent as soon as he steps into the spotlight. Reppin’ Manhattan’s Upper Westside, Noah Souder-Russo opened with the aptly entitled “Adrien Brody”, a witty, snare heavy ode to his striking resemblance to the Academy Award winner. “If its a compliment, well then you owe me / a quick turn in the sack cause I’m horny. / You can take a picture. / It cost money. / I’ll pose real hard with a fitted and a 40” he kicks over head-nod inducing production, quickly gaining crowd credibility. Rocking with DJ Turbz and the “white ?uest Love without the afro”, Rick Kraven on the drums; decked in white v-neck tee, dark blue jeans cuffed at the calf, and brown boat shoes - NSR managed the crowd like Joe Torre. “Only Two Plans of Attack”, with its chopped and screwed “Heartless” sample, forced the audience to chant “either going in, or your falling back” like they’ve previously heard the song, then suitably led the crowd through his life and mind on the sublime, scratch heavy “I Know I Couldn’t.” The set reached its apogee with NSR jumping into the crowd on the frat-house ready “Please Don’t Take The Music.” Mr. “Looks Like Adrien Brody” raised eyebrows by stepping on stage rocking boat shoes. But by the time he stepped off, all that mattered was that he rocked the mic.
Midnight - Styles P
Styles P is rapidly becoming one of The Company Man’s must-see live performers. The Ghost dominates the stage with an aggressively earnest swagger that comes with a decade-plus of show rocking experience; moving between the mic, the drink, the henney, and the beat as if its second nature. As if the stage, cluttered with amp cords, DJ equipment, hypemen and whatever else is a part of him. Its a beauty to witness. Plus - and this is the most important part - Styles has hits. A lot of hits. Enough to be unfamiliar with his catalog and still rap along with the lyrics. Its not uncommon for him to run through 9 or 10 tracks in a thirty minute set, complete with unfrabricated ad-libs and audience interaction. Since the LOX’s 1996 debut, David Styles has collaborated with, what seems like, every notable artist (BIG, DMX, Jay, JLo, Akon, Pharoahe Monch, Method Man, Black Thought...you name it). And the best part is he brings these Emcees out! D-Block and Black Thought joined him onstage during this year’s BHF - and that was before time restraints cut his set short. Styles P is one of the most accomplished Emcees in the rap-game. It makes sense that by the time he hit the stage, Southpaw was finally packed.
Rocking a navy Yankee fitted, a way-too popular v-neck white T, and jean shorts - Styles opened with the immediate crowd starter “Super Gangster” then ripped through the Violator The Album (2.0) stand out track “Come Thru”, a mixtape track, an off-the-top freestyle, that shiny-suit shit he did with J-Lo, and “Ride or Die Bitch.” The Ghost is in the zone.
“Get a real DJ if an Emcee. Fuck an iPod n****!” - Styles P
The next thirty-five minutes would run like a well-oiled mixtape; perfectly arranged, conducted by DJ Tek. Akon assisted anthems “Locked Up” and “Can You Believe it” rocked the crowd as if Akon was in attendance. “Switch My Style” with its how-fast-can-you-spell rhyme scheme provided sustenance to the lyrical fiends. Assumed bouncer, actual D-Block Emcee - Bully - graced the stage for two suitable guest appearances before (a suddenly ripped up) Sheek Louch joined Styles on stage for LOX jams “You Heard of Us”, “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye”, “Niggaz Done Started Somethin”, and “Reservoir Dogs.” JadaKiss was the only thing missing from this LOX reminiscence.
“If you think somethings missing, Tek, then I suggest you try to fill it in...” - Styles P
Southpaw erupted immediately at the sound of “Mighty D-Block’s” march-step production before completely losing control as JadaKiss touched down for his solo banger “Who’s Real?” Deeee Bloooooock! Deeee Blooooock! “Wild Out” and “Fuck You” hit hard enough to wish another LOX LP was in stores now! These three still rock well together.
“I think somebody else just touched down, you heard?!” - Styles P
Pharoahe Monch stepped on stage, twisted ‘fro and all, assisting Styles on “The Life.” Then commanding all attention for his ubiquitous anthem “Simon Says.” Thankfully this time he was allowed to finish his entire performance.
The Ghost wrapped with “I Get High”, “Blow Your Mind”, “Get That Paper,” then closed out alongside Jada with “We Gonna Make It.” 56 minutes. 24 tracks. 4 guest appearances. Precise. Concise. Energetic. Styles P put on a fantastic show for the now packed audience. All in all, all you should expect.
So there it is, night 1 of The Rock The Block Fest. Despite the early warning signs, heads came out for Hip Hop. Each performance bested its predecessor. Each performer rocked to a larger crowd than the previous. Honestly, the only eye-brow raiser was the bill itself. An unknown Israeli DJ, two rock-rappers, an Adrien Brody look-alike rocking boat shoes, and....STYLES P??? I mean, on paper it looks less complimentary than comical. But the audience left satisfied and validated. They got their moneys worth. Metermaids did their thing. NSR certainly did his thing. And Styles P shut it down. Even that doubtful bouncer sported a visible sense of relief. And thats Hip Hop - it all blends perfectly...let the liquor tell it.
That is, except for DJ Rob’s hypeman. There’s never enough audience sedation to supplement such an extreme lack of...well...hype.