The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival is one of the culture’s most organic and lively events. The food, the hosts, the inclusion of a Family Day for kids, and even many of the artists, are 100% Brooklyn. The music, while always well-chosen (and always representative of tough, lyric-driven rap), is often highlighted by surprise guests. Kanye visited in 2011, and look (above) at what happened this year. 2014’s Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival was a sloppy, wild, and bar-heavy good time. Take a walk through the momentous day with photos by RESPECT.’s Julia Schur.
8 year old Ari was the highlight of Family Day. Spitting schoolyard hooks about other kids being “crazy bananas” with a grown woman’s gusto, she was backed by a hypeman who knew how to stay out of the way and let her rock. Most impressive: she had the ability to swivel moods on a dime, not unlike a certain other rap queen.Audible Doctor of the Brown Bag All Stars hit the stage for a quick three song set full of well-constructed rhymes delivered with his genuinely humble nature. Though the good Doctor seemed to earnestly represent and resemble the average joe, he shined with just enough star quality to remind why he is the one on stage.Next, DJ Rob Swift swept in and began his lengthy set of scratching through classics from the ’80s to the ’00s. As with most DJ sets, the energy dipped some, but not for long as Swift had a hell of a lineup of surprise guests in store. Among them: Buckshot, who came to remind the crowd that he was one of the innovators of having a “jazzy flow.” Shortly thereafter, he forgot one of his closing verses, and had to spit a (strange) freestyle off the top to recover. He wouldn’t be the last to do so at the festival.
Swift also brought out Skyzoo and Torae, also known as the Barrel Brothers. Their recent album is strong enough to promise a dope performance no matter what, but part of what made watching the duo perform at the festival so special was the fact that Torae was serving as one of the day’s hosts, cracking jokes in dead moments between acts. Having the “brothers” perform was a great way to remind the crowd that while Torae is in every way self-deprecating in his down time, when he gets on the mic, there’s going to be carnage. Notably, Rob Swift also brought up rising rhymers Tanya Morgan and old school legends Brand Nubian. Next came Cyhi The Prynce, who is, depending on who you ask, either GOOD music’s secret weapon full of more metaphors than you can shake a metaphor at, or the only gun in Kanye’s arsenal that jammed. The man behind the Black History Projectthat dropped this February took the stage with a wild-eyed cockiness that at least attempted to leave no room for debate about his greatness. “The second coming is up in this mothefucker now,” Cyhi growled, stalking the stage in a dashiki and timbs. His energy was manic, and his delivery was consistently on point, specifically during the war-like “Mandela,” where he bounced up and down while maintaining a flow like steady gunfire. When the wind blew in strong near the song’s close, it felt as if Cyhi had changed the weather.
Having bumped up his set time to allow for “some very special surprises” (according to PR), the voodoo man, Jay Electronica took the stage, accompanied by a small battalion from the Nation of Islams’s Fruit of Islam, their military wing. The message–to the crowd and to the “false” music Jay repeatedly threatened–was clear. “Exhibit A” jolted the Brooklyn crowd to life (after a tense intermission) in a way that felt nearly spiritual. Hearing Jay Elect’s otherworldly lyrics uttered, or rather, belted out, live on stage, is something few of his listeners have had the chance to experience, and it truly added depth to his already impressive nature. One truly notices how intricate the first moments of “Eternal Sunshine” are, how rapturously haunting each line on “The Announcement” is, how dense (almost Raekwon-level) each bar is in “Dimethyltryptamine.”
Jay proved a man of the people, spending much of his set traveling back and forth from the stage to the crowd, where he could rap his iconic records, such as “Exhibit C” with fans shouting the words with him. It was in this way and more that Jay Elect put on the day’s best set. He brought out a few legendary guests, but to see more pics of those moments, and to get the full breakdown, you’ll have to head here, to our review of Jay Elect’s set.
Trust us, you want to see those other pictures.Though Jay Elect brought him out during his set, Saul Williams really only got to speak his peace on Holler If You Hear Me, a 2Pac-based musical that he’s starring in after Jay finished. What seemed like it would be a regular plug quickly turned electric when Saul tore into an impromptu(?) list of names shouted with urgency. The list was full of the names of passed visionaries and ended on two gleefully punctual syllables: Shakur.It was good to see Afrika Bambaataa both in the building and getting some love. As noted by festival host Ralph McDaniels, if it wasn’t for that man, none of us would be where we are right now.CJ Fly had the hardest job in the world on Saturday. Initially, he was only going to have a hard job: being the somewhat tacked-on third headliner behind Jay Elect and Raekwon. Because of Electronica’s rescheduling, though, he now had to go between the gods. Not only that, but Jay Electronica inadvertently ruined CJ’s day by bringing out Hov at the end of his set. Imagine being CJ Fly and having to follow up a set that ended with the one-two punch of “PSA,” (proclaimed that day by Jay Elect to be the new Black National Anthem) and “Exhibit C,” two Just Blaze monsters, the latter of which Electronica performed from the crowd. Now, imagine having to follow all that up with the question, “Who wants to get into some jazz?”It was a great choice to bring along a complete band to perform melodic tracks like “Locomotives,” but CJ’s lukewarm demeanor couldn’t keep the energy levels afloat or properly shift them to the realm his music occupies. He managed to be a solid interlude between the show’s gems, but not a whole lot more.
In a show full of rappers claiming to be “real hardcore lyricists” and sometimes failing that claim, Raekwon was the perfect antidote and anchor. Rae’s dense, visual, word-chunk style of rhyme was the crowning jewel of an afternoon of bars after bars after bars. He came to the stage with a clear gratitude to be the guest of honor, and an even clearer hunger to put on a good show. “Scramington,” he called his DJ, Scram Jones, with a smirk, “This mic sounds fuckin’ nice.” With that, the Chef was off.
Rae enjoyed himself without ever letting the energy or grit diminish. He put together a rugged set of classics from his and the Wu‘s catalogs (“Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ To Fuck With,” “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Ice Cream,” “Incarcerated Scarfaces,”) and performed them all with polish, only occasionally stumbling over a word and cutting the track. Whenever he took a moment out to speak to the crowd, it was to say something genuine and genuinely confusing, if only because Rae seemed too overjoyed and lost in his work to really worry about making sense. “Tonight…even if it’s today, it’s tonight,” he said at one point, getting a good laugh out of everyone left wondering what he initially was going to say. Later, he said “You know, you go to the South, they party, they have fun, but New York…New York we more like we-we-we visual. It’s a lot of shit going on, life is in front of us! We talk about struggle man, this is real struggle on wax! Pay attention!” It’s that kind of narrow focus that it takes to think that there’s more “life” in NY than other places that has kept Raekwon so detail oriented and sharp for over 20 years. It’s the trapped-in-the-’90s mindset it takes to think the South is all parties that has kept Raekwon Raekwon.
Check out the full Raekwon set review here.
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