Pete Rock’s DJing set, which included timeless hits by A Tribe Called Quest and Mobb Deep, suddenly came to halt. Once in a while, technical issues can mire a live performance. Faulty microphones or speakers blowing out are just some of the difficulties that can cause a lull in the show. Last Thursday night at Hip-Hop History Live, it was the turntables. So while Pete Rock fiddled with the cords to restore any type of sound, owner Marcus Linial of the Canal Room appeared on stage to speak about the significance of bringing together historical MCs.
Younger and older admirers gathered to the Canal Room, which all appreciated the nightclub’s milestone of reaching eight years since its renovation. From the music mecca Shine to the Canal Room, it has become one of Manhattan’s go-to destinations for a sensory overload of music and a lively scene. Performers, Nice & Smooth, Brand Nubian and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, headlined the night and are considered some of hip-hop’s most revered artists.
These were the guys that helped birth the lifestyle and feel of early ‘90s hip-hop and they had the rhymes to back it up. Just listening to every verse, their legacies carried through samples and borrowed lyrics in later songs, showed they have influenced many. In celebration of the Canal Room’s achievement, they were bringing the flavor of 1990 that can heat up any winter night.
Nice & Smooth, consisting of Greg Nice and Smooth B, took the stage first and performed a longer set than planned. Nice joked that they were scheduled to perform for 20 minutes. Of course, they provided enough material that kept the crowd mesmerized with their funky rhymes. “Me and Smooth come from the era of MCs.” Nice yelled, as he hopped into the crowd. “We ain’t rappers, rappers wrap gifts.”
The duo weren’t just MCs, they were veterans. Nice & Smooth opened with “How To Flow” and brought along backup dancers to show off some throwback dance moves. “No Delayin’” displayed the dynamic of these two, feeding off the atmosphere of the room by emphasizing every punchline with powerful back vocals.
After Nice danced with a few fans in the audience, he maneuvered his way to the VIP section. To watch two performers continue on with their set, even at opposite ends, proved that they weren’t just your run-of-the-mill rappers. First and foremost, they were entertainers, often lighting up the mood with humorous comments about beepers returning from the grave, reminiscing about their blunt smoking habits and using the profit from this show to “pay a light bill.” (Good one, Nice.) Their performance was a showcase of how classic artists keep playing their music to replenish the soul.
(For an old school refresher check out T.R.O.Y. by Pete Rock & CL Smooth)
Brand Nubian, the group made up of Sadat X, Grand Puba and Lord Jamar, were next to perform. Shouts of “It’s who? Brand Nubian!” by Sadat X, continued the back and forth connection between the crowd. Known for their politically-charged content, the group gathered some of their greatest hits to perform. “The Return,” “What’s The 411?” “Love Me or Leave Me Alone” and “360 Degrees” amped up the energy for the whole night. Together with Pete Rock and a whole crew behind them sharing the spotlight (and a couple of drinks), Brand Nubian made it known that they were leaders of the old school just having some fun.
Maybe it was the fact that both Nice & Smooth and Brand Nubian performed longer playlists, but Pete Rock & CL Smooth did a very tight six-song set. Either way, the duo from Mt. Vernon further illustrated why they were a part of hip-hop’s rich history. CL wore a menacing scowl nearly every time he laid down some bars, while Pete Rock encouraged him with his signature ad-libs. The duo jumped into “The Creator” and “One In A Million.” There wasn’t one person in the room that didn’t know the lyrics, as indicated by CL pointing the mic to the crowd.
When CL serenaded the female fans with “Its A Love Thing,” it set off a string of shrills. Although, he knew what everybody wanted to hear them perform, the single that has been covered many times,“They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y).” Paying respects to fallen troops, Pete Rock was all smiles as he paused for a minute before playing the familiar saxophone and bass sample. CL let the crowd recall the song’s acknowledgment of family members and lost ones before retaking over his MC duties.
Even if you wanted to compare these legends with today’s up-and-coming artists, the answer is probably the same. There are old school purists that will tell you that this type of hip-hop trumps anything. Others will say the newer generation is leading the hip-hop game and taking it to another level. But Hip-Hop History Live tells us this: Its MCs like Nice & Smooth, Brand Nubian and Pete Rock & CL Smooth that are passing the torch to the younger generation. Call old school real hip-hop or call new school the next wave. But on this night, these guys were the ones that created history.
Photography by Far Fetched Future. Catch more flicks from the night here.
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