Everyone’s got that one annoying friend on Facebook who posts endless statuses about “real hip hop.” You know the spiel. Kanye can’t rap. Kendrick’s attempt at beef is weak. Drake is soft. Unless it’s Illmatic, Resonable Doubt, 36 Chambers or Midnight Marauders, it ain’t worth listening to. In other words… they sound as ridiculously closed-minded as a TV dad does when he shakes his fist at those damn kids with their music.
Cultural tropes aside, if there’s anything I’ve heard this year that is honest to god, no BS, REAL HIP-HOP (in all the right ways), it was the tag team set DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist spun this past weekend at Irving Plaza. Oh, and this wasn’t just a tandem set from two of the most acclaimed turntablists of the past three decades… they were spinning records from Afrika Bambaataa’s personal collection, while the the President of the Zulu Nation himself looked onward from the balcony. Including Bambaataa’s own original demo pressing of “Looking for the Perfect Beat.” I think “real hip-hop” dude just splooged.
The ninety minute Renegades of Rhythm set, split into three sections (funk/disco, more “out there” electronic stuff and finally, Bambaataa’s own tracks), was a primer on the sounds, samples and images that formed the backbone of the language of beatmakers, B-Boys and emcees. Shadow and Chemist chopped up P-Funk, James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone with Kraftwerk and Public Image Ltd. against a backdrop of bombed subway cars covered in colorful graffiti imploring the city to “Dump Koch.” Shadow and Chemist’s best work on wax may be a couple of decades behind them, but on Saturday night they were both starry-eyed kids who love Wild Style, showing off their hero’s dog-eared record sleeves. They were spectators as much as they were performers, beaming with glee at the sights and sounds of a cultural revolution they also happened to be a major part of.
Their playful and upbeat vibe made the night that much more enjoyable for the ACTUAL spectators, who were treated to an expertly crafted set from one of the greatest record collections ever assembled, by two of the best hip-hop DJs who ever lived. Hip-hop has always been about recycling and repurposing things that are old into something new and exciting. The genre functions on homage by default, so celebrations like this past weekend’s feel natural. Bambaataa’s records are in absolutely terrible shape, but despite resembling oil-slicked round slices of swiss cheese, they sounded incredible coming out of the decks at Irving Plaza on Saturday night.
The usual people who go to “DJ sets” on the weekend were nowhere to be found; the room full of heads and dorks who still get psyched for new Talib Kweli cuts. People who know about hip-hop (sorry, not you Facebook dude.) There were no airs; the crowd cheered loudly for the most recognizable samples. People were breakdancing during the Bambaataa third of the set, spurred on by Shadow who mused that “Chicago had three circles going the other night.”
Holy fuck, it was a refreshing night out; a subtle reminder of how awesome the halcyon days of “instrumental hip hop” were. When does our generation get our Endtroducing?