Although it wasn’t the birthplace of hip-hop, Queensbridge manages to hold a very special place in hip-hop history as it was the home of legendary producer Marley Marl, who later produced some of LL Cool J’s best work – including a ton of songs on one of LL Cool J’s biggest breakout hit albums, Mama Said Knock You Out; and because the neighborhood was also home to Marley Marl’s Juice Crew whose members include Roxanne Shante, MC Shan and Craig G., before introducing rappers like Kool G. Rap, Biz Markie, and Big Daddy Kane. The Juice Crew developed a reputation for firing off and starting beefs with rival crews on records, including their biggest rivals, the South Bronx-based Boogie Down Productions, fronted by KRS One, as well as DJ Red Alert. Of course, when compared to the beef records of new school hip-hop, the beefs between Boogie Down Productions and the Juice Crew seem – well, kind of tame. But regardless of their tameness by more modern standards, some truly amazing records were released during this time. Unfortunately and typically, for hip-hop or any other genre, the Queensbridge sound fell out of favor for the better part of a decade. But rappers such as Capone (of the Queens-based duo Capone ‘N Noreaga), Mobb Deep, Cormega and superstar, Nas brought the neighborhood back to prominence and back to public consciousness. So with Queensbridge’s place in hip-hop history, it should be no surprise that Summerstage would host the first of a recurring series of hip-hop shows here in Queensbridge with Funkmaster Flex and legendary old school rappers, EPMD as the headliners.
Figuring that there would be a lot of people out for the free show, I changed to a t-shirt and shorts and bolted from my office to make sure I got a decent enough spot to actually see the stage. Of course, that meant getting there for some of the last bit of sound checks before DJ Hotday warmed up the early comers with a tad over an hour set that started off with some area-appropriate old school hip-hop with the Juice Crew’s “The Bridge,” and weaved its way through hip-hop history, as it was followed by Jay Z, Mobb, Deep, Run DMC’s “Sucka MC’s” and tons more, before finally ending with Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle.” Hotday’s DJ set was fairly workman-like as it was relatively free of turntable pyrotechnics – there wasn’t endless scratching for the sake of scratching or sudden and obnoxious switching between stereo and mono sound either, which are staples of tons of DJs across the country. Granted some of the song selection felt a bit obvious but I was quite pleased to hear both “Sucka MCs” and “Blow the Whistle” in the same set – especially since I hadn’t heard “Blow the Whistle” in some time (and because it’s one of my favorite Too $hort songs).
There were two brief stoppages during DJ Hotday’s set to allow Ron Artest, the local hero and member of the 2010 NBA World Champion Los Angeles Lakers to say a couple of words to the crowd and later to let him know that State Senate Chairman Malcolm Smith had passed legislation proclaiming July 15th to be Ron Artest Day across the state. Artest gets an unfairly bad rap – he’s a bit of a weird dude and yes, he has gotten himself into trouble – but he’s always been proud of being from Queensbridge, and he routinely gives back to the community, so I have to give him credit for that. And although I’m jumping a little ahead of myself here, despite what he does for his community, as a rapper he frankly isn’t good. Sure, as a basketball player, he exudes confidence but on stage, he exudes an awkward, cringe-inducing presence that made me feel embarrassed for him. If he wasn’t the tallest dude on stage, I think it would have been easier to dismiss him as a wannabe. Artest’s rhymes and rhyme schemes are fairly simplistic and the material is more of the clichéd stuff any listener will come across on the radio: songs about money, bling, women, champagne and cars. At one point, Artest seemed to be lip synching one of his songs – badly. It wasn’t as terrible as a strung out and screwed up, David Bowie lip synching “Fame” on Soul Train but it was close. During his insufferably long set, I had turned to an older woman who was standing near me and we both agreed on one thing – that Ron Artest should stick to playing basketball.
Like a lot of Hot 97 listeners, I’ve bitterly complained about Funkmaster Flex, especially over the last five years or so. Funkmaster Flex seemed to spend much more time promoting his car shows down in South Jersey and his other various projects than playing actual music. But when he’s actually inspired to play, Flex is among the world’s best DJs. His set also primarily stuck to old school stuff, ranging from New Edition’s super saccharine “Candy Girl,” to Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison,” Mobb Deep, old school break beats, Wu Tang Clan and others. Unlike DJ Hotday who stuck to playing longer pieces of songs, Flex’s set involved much more pyrotechnics – scratching, weaving and bopping galore. Strangely, Flex ended his set with Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle.” I love the song but I kept wondering why both DJs played similar tunes throughout the set. Regardless, both DJs had the audience amped up for the rest of the night.
EPMD brings back all sorts of fond memories for me. I think of catching Yo! MTV Raps with Dr. Dre and Ed Lover on the weekends after school and the weekend edition with Fab Five Freddy, and catching the hottest videos of the day or of the week. Ah, there was Third Bass, Heavy D, Kwame and the Polka Dots, the New Jack Swing era, Redman, K Solo, and of course EPMD. One of the first cassette tapes I bought was EPMD’s Business Never Personal in 1991 or 1992 from the long defunct chain, Nobody Beats the Wiz. Granted, seeing Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith looking like they were aging (and badly), reminded me that I was also getting older. But you know, at the same time, it reminded me of how much fun some of the old school stuff really was. “You Gots to Chill” and “So Whatcha Sayin’” with their 808 synthesizer drum beats and heavy bass lines bristle with the sort of braggadocio that was common in old school rhymes. Sure, Sermon and Smith’s rhymes were never as politically charged or as a deep as KRS One, never really filled with the righteous indignation of Chuck D, nor filled with the wild pop culture references of Das EFX but they were always fun.
Both Sermon and Smith took a breather to allow for their DJ, DJ Scratch to do a ten or fifteen minute DJ set full of wild pyrotechnics – including Scratch using his mouth and teeth on the turntable. DJ Scratch who’s a three-time World DJ Champion is known for these sorts of tricks and it really wows the crowd. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith joined Scratch back up on the stage to do an incredibly energetic and wild version of “Headbanger” complete with roughly every possible hip-hop personality they could gather in New York on stage with them. I recognized Greg Nice of Nice ‘N Smooth, Marley Marl, Spinderella of Salt ‘N Pepa, and Capone of Capone ‘N Noreaga. Even Ralph McDaniels was around somewhere. Ending the set with Erick Sermon’s subpar hit “Just Like Music,” was a bit of a downer but still this show was probably the most fun at a show I’ve had in quite some time.
(Photos: #1 [top]: Funkmaster Flex on the 1s and 2s; #2 and #3: DJ Scratch on the 1s and 2s; #4: EPMD rocking the crowd; #5: Ron Artest spitting some rhymes; #6: DJ Hotday warming up the crowd; #7: Ralph McDaniels; and #8: Ron Artest saying a few words to his neighborhood)
Article and all photos by Willam Ruben Helms. Check out more photos from the show on William's Flickr page.
Gordon Gano, Steve Wynn, Gary Lucas, Funkmaster Flex...playing in QUEENS?!?!
Recently a great discussion on our website was sparked when the question of whether a "music scene" really exists in Queens was asked.
Despite what some of the naysayers say and believe, like a plant that bursts and grows out of a piece of cement, there have been a lot of musicians, event producers, promoters and fans working hard to bring music to Queens bars, cafes and parks that were never intended to host and house live music. It's a beautiful and organic thing to observe.
Beautiful enough to attract artists that in the past might have scoffed at the thought of even getting off the train in Queens! "Name" artists too!
We were most surprised and pleased to have GARY LUCAS play the Bohemian Beer Hall this past week! Lucas is famous for his collaborations with Lou Reed, Jeff Buckley (Lucas co-wrote two of the songs, "Grace" and "Mojo Pin", from Jeff Buckley's popular and critically acclaimed album Grace), Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave, and many more!
The Secret Theatre is presenting an ALEX CHILTON TRIBUTE Saturday, July 31st (get tix HERE!). STEVE WYNN of THE DREAM SYNDICATE and JIM SCLAVUNOS of NICK CAVE'S BAD SEEDS, and KEITH STRENG of THE FLESHTONES are just the first names to be announced in a line up that Secret Theatre director Richard Mazda promises will be full of very cool surprise guests.
The band KRAUT are true New York punk pioneers. In fact their very first gig was opening for THE CLASH! And now they are headling THE ASTORIA MUSIC AND ARTS ASTORIA MUSIC NOW FESTIVAL Saturday, July 24th! (more info HERE!)
LIC Bar's big score for the summer is none other than GORDON GANO of The VIOLENT FEMMES! Gano will be performing there with THE RYAN BROTHERS (of THE BOGMEN) Sunday, August 15th at 6pm.
And this just in: a fantastic FREE hip hop show starring legendary rappers EPMD and DJ FUNKMASTER FLEX Thursday, July 15th at 7pm in LIC's Queensbridge Park! (more details HERE!)
It's very interesting that despite the lack of a 100% full time music venue in Queens the people in the scene are starting to see their hard work pay off when artists of this caliber start to venture this way, don't you think? And this is just the first wave...
We're excited to see who's coming along next...!