The “Golden Age of Hip-Hop” visited Washington, DC once again as Slick Rick and Rakim quaked The Howard Theatre with timeless Hip-Hop classics. This show was a total contrast from old-school Hip-Hop shows I’ve recently reviewed such as The Pharcyde and Smf-N-Wessun. The performances by Slick Rick and Rakim were the typical stand-in-place microphone gripping rhyme ripping showmanship, however the the energy was unique, the crowd was extremely larger, there was not 15 people on stage, nor was there weed smoke all over the venue. The Golden Age of Hip-Hop is a well-respected era of innovative commercial music success for DJs and emcees alike. The audience was made up of people born in the late 70’s and 80’s babies.
Up until the early 90’s, DJs were much more respected and reverenced as a part of the genre, therefore It was only right that a DJ open the show vs. an exposure hungry new-aged rapper. DJ Kaos moved the crowd by spinning nostalgia through the room with classic old-school joints like Rock the Bells, Ain’t No Half Stepping, and DWYCK. You know you’re at a real Hip-Hop concert when a break dancing competition breaks out in the middle of a packed house. Yes, that happened and it was absolutely awesome!
I recall being no older than 12 years old when I learned the lyrics of “Children’s Story” by Slick Rick. His narrative rhyme style created a memorable rap-along vibe where upon hearing his music you couldn’t wait to hear it again just to sing along. Slick Rick, British rapper from the Bronx wearing a gray eye patch to match his sparkling gray microphone and abundance of bulky sparkling white gold chains took the stage about 10pm. The spirit of the audience was respect and honor rather than the typical fans roaring for their favorite artist. Slick Rick is the tall fun charming class clown everybody loved to watch get in trouble with the teacher.
His set included “It’s A Boy,” “Street Talkin (performed over Da Art of Storytellin by Outkast),” “Mona Lisa,” “La-Di-Da-Di, Jail Tune” (new song with reggae mix), “The Show,” “Hey Young World,” “Teenage Love” (slowed down), “Lick the Balls” and “Children’s Story.” Fans were a bit disappointed with his decision to rhyme “La-Di-Da-Di” over an unrecognizable beat. He may have seen this as fresh and innovative, however the people in the section behind me expressed their disapproval by yelling “No! I didn’t come for this! What is this?!” This is evidence that in the minds of fans he is suspended in the era that they would like to remember him in. They want to sing along to their favorites exactly the way they were when he created them. Nonetheless, watching Slick Rick break into old school dances like “the wop” as well as being able to rap along to “Children’s Story,” “The Show,” and “Hey Young World” live sparked an inherent positive wistful moment for everyone in the room.
The bass lines of “Don’t Sweat the Technique” and “Know the Ledge” are the most identifiable unique memorable uses of bass guitar in Hip-Hop history. Rakim is arguably the greatest emcee of all time. He is by far one of the most influential amongst the hip-hop community. Your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper or influence is Rakim. He ushered in an era of flow that brought you the styles of emcees like Mos Def, Jay Z, and Nas. His lack of flashy jewelry and outfits show him as a simple man with complex thoughts solely focused on the technique of rhyme. DJ 33rd, took over the tables asking the question “Ay, Rakim, when’s the last time you’ve been to DC?” Rakim responded “I don’t know man…” then dropped “It’s been a long time.”
The set continued in a conversational manner between DJ 33rd and Rakim wherein they bounced a story back and forth that included the song to match. His set was a time warping selection of classics including Follow the leader, Waiting for the world to end, “My Melody”, “In the Ghetto,” “It’s Nothing” (released in 2008), “The Watcher 2,” “Move the Crowd,” “I Know You Got Soul,” “Don’t Sweat The Technique,” “Let the Rhythm Hit’em,” “I Ain’t No Joke,” “Eric B is President,” “Know The Ledge,” “Paid In Full.”
The audience rapped along to every word of each song creating a concert reminiscent of your greatest childhood Hip-Hop memories. At the conclusion of the show Rakim honored Slick Rick and told the story of how much he was influenced by him as an artist. Even after the concert was over I never felt like the experience ended. After having a moment to digest it I concluded that the industry most likely never predicted that Hip-Hop would become a timeless genre of music, however the DJs, beat boxers, break dancers, graffiti artists, and emcees had always planned to be present. As they will. This year celebrates over 20 years of Hip-Hop and the saga continues. The Howard Theatre is letting the world know that when the pioneers of this vibrant genre come to town they have a home and an audience here in Washington, DC.