This past Saturday concluded the weeklong 8th annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival headlined by Busta Rhymes.
The week began with the Brooklyn Bodega’s Show & Prove competition featuring performances by Evitan, Reks, 1982 and Freeway. Tuesday included symposiums with veteran music writer Nelson George, sound engineer Young Guru and publisher of Akashic books Johnny Temple.
Thursday featured a collection of documentaries for the event’s Indie Film Screening curated by the filmmakers themselves. The three screenings were Egypt Through The Glass Shop by Anyextee, The Infamous Mobb Deep documentary by RBMA/Rooster NY and Nelson George‘s critically-acclaimed documentary Brooklyn Boheme. George’s film chronicles the artistic prevalence among African Americans in the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill areas of Brooklyn during the late 1980s-early 1990s. A great week for hip-hop heads overall, especially those from Brooklyn.
Despite the impressive lineup of events during the week, the clear headliner of the festival was Saturday’s concert. The culmination of the week-long celebration of hip-hop and Brooklyn featured performances by Ka, Clear Soul Forces, Chuuwee, Fat Tony and the entire week’s headliner, Busta Rhymes. The concert featured dozens of vendors including LRG and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Hundreds roamed the Brooklyn Bridge Park which had a gorgeous view of downtown Manhattan across the water.
Aside from Clear Soul Forces, the opening acts did not adequately prepare the crowd for Busta. There were minimal crowd reactions and more call than response, leaving the festival-goers with little reason to get excited. The first signs of life crept in during the DJ’s set before Busta Rhymes came out on stage. “Hip Hop Hooray” finally got the crowd moving. Busta calmly walked onto the stage with his hype man Spliff Star and said, “Can I ask a question?” DJ Scratch started playing the 2002 single “Pass the Courvoisier (part. II)” and it all started to make sense. Because really, “Don’t this shit make my people wanna…?!”
From his days in Leaders of the New School, Busta performed about 20 years of material including “Ante Up (remix),” “New York Shit,” “What It Is,” “Give It To Me,” “Dangerous,” “Gimme Some More,” “Woo Hah” and many more tracks. To the crowd’s delight, Busta reunited Leaders of the New School for the first time in 19 years to perform “Case of the PTA” with fellow members Dinco D and Charlie Brown.
The “And Friends” part of the headliner’s set included a brightly-colored Slick Rick, complete with dozens of gold chains around his neck. He stayed on stage to perform his classic “Children’s Story.” The breakout performance of the night was when Busta assembled A Tribe Called Quest to perform “Scenario (remix),” in which Phife Dawg and Q-Tip came out to perform their classic early 90’s anthem.
Because of the late start time, Busta’s sound was cut off before he finished the set. Despite the lackluster openers, hundreds of fans still found their way into the venue to show support for hip-hop and Brooklyn. The 8th annual affair should be growing in stature, prevalence and caliber of artists, but something about this year made it difficult to see the long-term growth of the overall festival.
BKHHF is the homegrown equivalent of HOT 97’s Summer Jam, with perhaps a too-specified niche of hip-hop. Joell Ortiz even had a few words to say on the festival, which weren’t too positive. Brooklyn Bodega embodies the spirit of a grassroots organization trying to facilitate a grand festival, but without the monetary backing of big-name sponsors, it’s difficult to put on an impeccable lineup. Many complained of the openers not being “good” enough, (one festival-goer even called it “no child left behind rap”) and based on the crowd’s interactions, it isn’t difficult to see that.
From the outside looking in, it seems as though either money or the quality of talent booking was the reason for this year’s lacking festival. The vision of the festival is clear, but it would be a shame if money is the reason why the event never reaches its tenth birthday. For the sake of hip-hop, the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival is needed, but constant “surprise” appearances by Duck Down Records artists eventually grows old. An expansion of vision or perhaps a wider reach to more relevant artists could make next year’s festival as great as last year’s (Q-Tip, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar).
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