St. Louis, MO – Home of the Cardinals, the Rams, the Arch and……Nelly.
The first week of September 2006 saw the birth of the 1st Annual St. Louis Hip Hop Festival. To my great surprise (and excitement) it turns out the festival was being headlined by several Old School Hip Hop Legends.
The festival was held on the Eads Bridge which is a four lane highway over the Mississippi River Monday-Friday, but on several weekends during the summer it hosts all varieties of events and concerts. On this particular weekend, the St. Louis Blues and Jazz Festival was being held on the riverfront as well so the area was really packed with people.
Although the event began around 11:00am, I was working until the afternoon so I finally showed up about 4:30pm. There were several local groups that had been performing throughout the day and as I wasn’t particularly interested in them I visited the jazz fest for some food before going in for the headliners which were scheduled to start around 6pm.
The King of Rap himself opened the show. I saw him open for Run DMC back in 1998 (the best concert of my life), and I’m pretty sure that he was doing very nearly the same show this time around.
No matter. He’s Kurtis Blow and I was thrilled to have him around. Turns out he has a relative (a sister if recall correctly) that lives in St. Louis. He wore an all white outfit including hat and had several b-boys that did some background and hype work for him. One of the dancers was actually Lil Lep from the New York City Breakers!
Kurtis did his thing with enthusiasm even though the crowd was still coming in and it wasn’t too packed just yet. He announced he was celebrating his 34th year in Hip Hop. That’s nuts to a guy that’s only 32.
His voice was in good shape as he opened with “If I Ruled the World” followed by “AJ Scratch”. During “Christmas Rappin” he went back and joined the dancers for a little b-boy battle much to the delight of the crowd (and Lil Lep).
Kurtis’s son (no, not DJ Run for those that know), Kurtis Blow Jr hit the stage and busted out an impressive freestyle about himself and his dad. Papa Blow was pleased and proud.
He closed with “Basketball” ending his set after about 30 minutes or so.
Slick Rick was on top of his game. This guy has to be one of the coolest cats around. He was dressed to impress and did so as he went through several of his biggest hits.
He opened with “Mona Lisa” and the verse he did with Outkast a while back, then went into a few classics. He performed “La Di Da Di” with Doug E Fresh’s beat box pre-recorded backing him up. The crowd was right there with him the whole time (including a few of the younger guys that performed earlier that were mesmerized seeing Rick work the crowd). The best line, “I said I’m 41, she said ‘Stop lying'”. I’d heard him do that line last summer when he came through with Doug Fresh himself, but it still got a great laugh from everyone.
“The Show” followed next with his DJ (named Kaos, probably spelled wrong) helping him out with a few of Doug’s lines.
He next did a cool verse a cappella that he’d dropped for Jermaine Dupri and then did a song called “Kick the Boss” which sounded a lot like “Lick the Balls” but, hey, this was a family event!
Next he and his DJ played a game they called New School vs. Old School, where they would play a newer hip hop track and the kids would go wild, then an old funk tune and the adults would respond.
How could he not do “A Children’s Story”? Of course he closed with it (now draped in lots of vintage gold chains) and the crowd said every word. He came back out for an encore of “Hey Young World”.
Of the acts, the Sugarhill Gang was the only I hadn’t seen live before so I was interested in what they would bring to the table. This was even more true considering how they are often held in poor regard by some in the hip hop community.
It didn’t start well as there was almost an hour between Rick and the Gang so the crowd was getting impatient. But finally the Gang arrived, well sort of.
I’m not up to date on all the inner issues of who is in and out these days, but basically Wonder Mike was played by not one, but two guys, neither of whom was the original. No mention of that was made so I certainly hope others there didn’t think one of them was the real deal.
As much as one can be tempted to diss these guys, if nothing else, they brought a high energy level to their set. They worked hard and for the most part seemed various gracious of the crowd.
They opened with a rousing version of “Apache”. Then they played clips of several newer songs that had used some part of “Rapper’s Delight”. I had to smirk a bit since as most know they “borrowed” lyrics from Grandmaster Caz to use in the original.
The next bit was a bit odd as they performed “The Message” and “White Lines”. I just found that to be strange but the crowd was into it so I guess it worked.
Back to their own stuff, they performed “8th Wonder”, and then played some old funk classics and the crowd sang along.
Finally, of course, they dropped into “Rapper’s Delight” and the crowd went nuts. They did most of the song, but skipped the “chicken” verse. They came back out and had the crowd do that verse a cappella.
A few final points… They did mention that WESL in St. Louis was really the first station to break “Rapper’s Delight” and they were very thankful of that. They also remembered their first show in St. Louis was in the Checkerdome (a building that is no longer standing). That was pretty impressive to me since it’s been such a long time. Unimpressive to me was how Hank blew me off when I tried to talk to him after their set.
Overall it was good show. I was a little disappointed they didn’t come out for autographs and photos with the crowd. It was small enough that they probably could have stuck around to meet and greet. Tone Loc was supposed to be there but missed the plane (or so the crowd rumor went). One 40 year old white guy was really pissed about this and just stood in the middle of the crowd as everyone was leaving shouting “Where’s Tone Loc?!” Being a 32 year old white guy at the time, I got a kick out of everyone chuckling at his utter dismay that no one else seemed to care that Tone didn’t make it.
Before I go, I’d like to give a special mention to who were the entertainers between acts. They did a decent job especially DJ AJ and Lonnie B who worked the turntables. They had a tough gig especially during the hour lag between sets. St. Louis represents….