It's been a hip hop-heavy week. Wednesday saw Philly's finest The Roots hit the stage at the St James for a two hour jam, and the weekend brought the Aotearoa hip hop Summit back to Auckland for the third time in its four year history.
The Roots first came to attention during a spell in the UK but have taken a while longer to connect with an audience on their home turf. After stellar performances from King Kapisi, Scribe and Verse Two, the seven-piece Roots bounced onto the stage and jumped into a bunch of old school classics - tunes played by DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash way back at the dawn of hip hop in mid-70's New York.
The full speed bongo-fuelled medley showed that The Roots had no intention of slowly warming up. They grooved through a blend of their own songs and more classics. One started out as Soul Makossa, shifted into The Roots, then back to Soul Makossa again. A spectacular medley jumped from Prince's 'When Doves Cry' to the Kinks' 'All day and all of the night' to Salt'n'Pepa's 'Push it'. These guys played their asses off. The Roots ain't nothing but a party.
There were the obligatory solo pieces, with the drummer ?uestlove (real name) and the percussionist switching spots and assaulting the drum kit. The bass player pulled out a demented psychedelic solo that ended up on some old school and The Commodores' 'Brick house'. Earlier in the day, as a guest on Slave and Otis's bFM Drive radio show, ?uestlove was astonished to discover that the Commodores' bass player Ronald LaPread lived in Auckland. Slave put out a call to Ronald inviting him along to that night's show and ?uestlove put his name on the guest list. Both guitarists got solo spots. One did a huge Hendrix noisefest and the other - a very fly-looking cat dressed like Sly Stone - played it cool and crooned to the ladies.
The Roots finished off their set with a few more name drops before the MC dedicated the final song to the ladies, inviting them backstage after the show for a meet and greet. He was also thoughtful enough to mention the name of the hotel where the band were staying, just in case. After the final song, the members stood at the front of stage to shake hands with the crowd. Nice fellas.
The night was marred somewhat by an appalling sound mix that meant the warmth and energy coming off the stage was very poorly translated. The funky Roots' sound was reduced to something harsh and brittle and the MC's rapping was sometimes impossible to hear. Perhaps the PA had been tuned to suit the White Stripes, who played at the same venue the previous night. Two-piece rock is not the same as seven-piece hip hop.
The fourth annual Aotearoa hip hop Summit kicked off on Friday night with live performances, the ITF DJ championship finals and a B-boy invitational battle. The DJ champs came down to a head-to-head battle between DJ CXL and last year's winner Manchoo, who pulled one out of the bag and won it.
The B-boy battle was a series of full-on dance duels between a number of very agile young men who threw their bodies around in a funky fashion.
There were live performances from locals Hamofide (starting with the Honeypuffs jingle, replacing "honeypuffs" with "Hamofide"); DJ Raw and the Footsouljahs crew from Welli; Mareko; and UK guest DJs the Mixologists. The highlight was an MC called Tha Feelstyle who guested with DJ Raw to drop in a rap in Samoan - very cool. Watch out for this cat.
Hats off to the Footsouljahs crew for some fine guest spots, including man of the moment (number one single in the country, third week running) Scribe. Their dramatic announcement ("We've got a surprise for you - Che Fu!") didn't quite come off when Che didn't make it out on stage. "Ah, Che aint here," the MC announced, "but we got another song for you." Nice recovery.
Saturday was Disrupt The System - graffiti artists doing their thang live in Aotea Square with live performances from up and coming MCs and DJs.
Controversy surrounded this year's event. The Auckland City Council recently passed a resolution demanding that any Council funding of hip hop related events must be dependent on the graffiti artists involved denouncing graffiti vandalism - a ludicrous suggestion. The Summit organisers refused to sign any such agreement and withdrew their funding application. It's not difficult to tell the difference between graffiti art and tagging. One requires skill and talent; the other is scribbling your name. Yet more evidence why you should vote at the next Auckland City elections.
Many of the live acts at the Summit were plugging upcoming CD releases - an indication of the vibrancy of the local scene. High profile releases include King Kapisi, Scribe, Mareko and PMoney. MC Lucia served up some tasty diva/MC styles from her forthcoming album. MC Wordperfect let rip with some good party tunes aided by Kapisi (his album is called Spellcheck). Welli crew GND delivered some lively tunes, highlighting MC Kyla (arguably the hottest female MC in the country) and human beatbox Dougie B (the dude in the Telecom ad).
No Artifical Flavours made a late appearance after being rescheduled from earlier in the day due tp technical difficulties. Taaz, their MC, introduced his DJ, Manchoo, to fill in "while we race home to get a CD - that's called keeping it hori."
The Summit's final event was the Saturday Nite Summit Jam with special guest DJ Jazzy Jeff.
First act Dei Hamo have been floating round the scene for a while. They were very entertaining, right down to getting the ladies up on stage to help them shake it. The Dawn Raid showcase consisted of four of the label's acts accompanied by a 20-strong posse of dancers. A friend commented to me that when the Deceptikonz preformed 'Stop drop and roll' complete with hand movements (and the posse joined in) it looked like a school musical.
Pop rap outfit Nesian Mystic followed. The young girlies loved them but they seemed a bit lightweight in context. Scribe strolled onto the stage rhyming "How many dudes you know roll like this? Not many, if any..." Hats off to the C4 presenter who thought Scribe was saying "Not many, Aunt Fanny...". The place went crazy. He closed with 'Stand Up', a second track from his forthcoming album, and crazy cheering. The songs in between made only a minor impact on the crowd. It was probably lack of familiarity but that won't be a problem for too long, methinks.
And then on came Jazzy Jeff. No Fresh Prince in tow but he did have MC Pauly Yamz who hyped up the crowd while Jeff dropped some party classics. He even reached into his bag for 'Summertime' at the close of the set.
It's amazing how many times you can hear the phrase "make some noise for" in one weekend. Hats of to MC Slave for remorselessly working the crowd and nice distribution of the free sh*t ('cause free sh*t is good sh*t, like Slave says).
The Summit will be back next year, though probably in a greatly reduced format. Sponsorship is reportedly hard to come by because corporates don't seem to get it. It seems a shame that the premiere event on the local hip hop calendar is set to shrink at a time when there's so much strong talent rising to the surface. Anyone out there got deep pockets?