Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ripple Field Report - The Roots & Friends at BET Experience at LA Live, June 30

Question to ponder for the day: What one hip hop artist would you select to put in a time capsule to capture the brilliance of the genre for future generations?

Public Enemy would be an unquestionably strong choice, with their groundbreaking mélange of spot-on sociopolitical lyrics, juggernaut beats and a trio of iconic personalities in the one-two-three punch of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and DJ Terminator X.  (And yes, Flav was indeed and remains an icon for talents other than D list reality show hijinks and failed fried chicken franchises.)  The timeless Wu tang Clan, still going strong twenty years after crashing and redefining the early 90s NY scene, would seem fitting, the consummate all-star collective posse whose sum has always been so much greater than their component parts, eminently formidable in their own incarnations.

Headlining Saturday night’s recent noteworthy weekend BET Experience at LA Live, Philly’s legendary Roots crew made a strong case it should be them.  Blistering through a 90 minute set late after the conclusion of festivities next door at Staples Center, lead MC Black Thought and drummer Questlove guided the band formerly known as the Jimmy Fallon Show house band through a maelstrom of stellar tracks spanning their impressive discography.  Other artists have successfully melded the traditional duopoly of the mc rapping over a dj’s beats with live instrumental music, but none so successfully and artfully as the Roots, who we have as much to thank for expanding the genre beyond its earlier confines as anyone.  Versatility is unquestionably second nature to any band that could record such tracks as diverse as the haunting, thematically rich “Rising Down”; the devastating braggadocio rap Black Thought delivers on “75 Bars”, and the gloriously sweet “Lovely Love My Family” for the coolest kids’ show for adults in the universe, Yo Gabba Gabba.

Most noteworthy about the evening is it was billed as the Roots and Friends, and as it progressed to showcase star-powered talent in the form of some of hip hop’s luminaries from epochs past, it clearly delivered on its ambitious promise.

First up was MC Lyte, the legendary groundbreaking female lyricist who busted out classic smackdown verses in “10% Dis” and “I Cram to Understand U” back when Nicki Minaj was sporting pink Pampers in Trinidad. Looking svelte, sophisticated, and genuinely elated to be onstage with the opportunity to reinvent her classics from back in the day with today’s brightest stars, she thoroughly commanded the stage as she treated a whole new generation of hip hop heads to her signature “Paper Thin”.

Next was Nelly, representing the gold chained Playa contingent, ambling his way capably enough through crowdpleasing hits like “Hot in Herre” and “Bustin Loose”.  It was a significant nod in the radio-friendly direction for the Roots to have included him in a stage graced by more weighty luminaries, and he didn’t disappoint.

Too Short followed, and though he didn’t dig quite deep enough in his crates to drop “Don’t Fight the Feelin” or other XXXcapades for which he was once known, he showed he hasn’t lost a step by admirably ripping through “Life is Too Short” and the chart-topper “Blow the Whistle”.

(Memo to hip hop creative forces:  stop bringing onstage randomly selected attractive women sporting dresses the size of KIeenexes to, ahem,  dance, a term I use in the most liberal possible sense.  The dancers look awkward, the rappers look awkward, the crowd feels awkward…Please.  Just.  Stop.  You want dancing, hire real ones, like Santigold did, who featured two spectacularly fonky sidekicks this Spring during her set at House of Blues Sunset Strip.)

Culminating the evening in spectacular style was a surprise visit from Naughty By Nature, whose instantly recognizable sing a long hits “OPP” and “Hip Hop Hooray” graced every single time-out choreographed jam in the NBA back in the 90s.  Treach and Vinnie shredded their shared lead vocals, Vinnie bouncing his few extra pounds around with a youthful exuberance belying his middle age, and a lithe Treach killing his virtuoso rapid-fire rhymes while shedding a clothing item with each new number – a few more and he would have surely been rocking the crowd in his Beckhams.

The entire experience was imbued with an appreciative, celebratory vibe in which Black Thought and his peeps were more than willing to share their well-deserved spotlight with a diverse array of their peers.  A more vivid testament to hip hop’s legacy would be difficult to visualize.

 --Rhythm Slayer

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