A Tribe Called Quest
A few months back, Common was in Cincinnati for a brief appearance to promote his critically-acclaimed (and commercially-successful) sixth release, Be. I sauntered up to the entrance of the chosen venue -- not quite sure what to expect -- to discover that I would win the award for being the only person over 35 turned away at the door for wearing sneakers.
"But they're suede New Balance," I pleaded to no avail as I proudly flashed my pre-purchased ticket (which made no reference to a dress code) at the guy working the door. Not to be defeated, I began the long, dreaded death march back to my car and mumbled "good luck" to the few brothers on their way in who had also made the same fatal footwear faux pas that I had. (A good friend told me later that night to always carry a pair of Tims in the car. I'll have to remember that.)
Moments later, wearing an un-tucked cotton shirt, jeans, a low-slung Yankees cap and now a pair of clunky loafers, I entered the lobby and saw several contemporaries and acquaintances dressed as if they were on their way to a nice Jazz club or a happy hour. A few brothers rocked the versatile suit-with-no-tie ensembles, while others wore retro-looking t-shirts under blazers. There was nary a knee-length white tee in sight.
Alas, only I could manage to show up at a Hip Hop concert underdressed. But I got over it pretty quickly. There was plenty of intelligent conversation and green-bottle beer as the DJ who opened for Common cut and scratched old-school classic after classic.
For a moment I actually thought I was at a class reunion or a mid-'80s college frat party.
Folks mingled, shook hands, hugged and exchanged business cards (or demo CDs) while several political candidates made their rounds. There were drinks, finger foods and wings to munch on. There were even a handful of vendors selling T-shirts, jewelry and oils. No gun clapping, no drama, just mature folks hanging out and having a good time.
When Common finally ran onto the stage, the mingling came to a screeching halt and people of all ages began cheering and mouthing the lyrics to his newest tracks as if they had somehow managed to memorize them during the eleven days since the official release date of the album. His set was short and sweet -- no surprise guest appearances by Kanye West, Mos Def or Talib Kweli -- but just enough to whet our appetites for his full-length engagement to come several weeks later.
However, what really captured my attention was that most of the people attending the show were at least 25 years old and a good portion were in their mid-30s or early-40s. I even saved a seat for a woman who had to be in her early 60s. Mad props to our elder for supporting The Movement.
As I look back, I now believe I was a firsthand witness to the genesis of what some would call the Adult Contemporary Hip Hop scene.
Musically, this makes perfect sense. Quite a few popular Hip Hop releases (De La's The Grind Date, Common's Be and Little Brother's The Minstrel Show immediately come to mind) make liberal use of melodic, soulful R&B riffs and samples from the '70s and '80s to reel in precisely the same demographic that attended Common's promotional event. And the DJ's hour-long set of classic Hip Hop took us back to a time when we didn't have to roll up in a Hummer with diamond-encrusted dubs to feel like we were having a good time.
Yet, recognizing that The Industry is much more interested in capturing purchasing power than producing good music, it's doubtful that people at the event who didn't already own Common's new album ran out the next day and copped it. For many of us, the night represented little more than a once-in-a-blue-moon escape from the kids, the household chores, the work piling up on our desks and other hallmarks of responsible adulthood.
Despite this risk, promoters of the event got it right this time. They knew exactly how to create an atmosphere that the crowd would appreciate and took the necessary steps to make it happen.
So I forgive them for the little sneaker mix up.
About a year ago, I wrote about the likelihood of becoming a 70-year-old man still listening to Hip Hop. If promoters keep sponsoring the right shows and artists (like Common) keep producing quality, thought-provoking material, it might actually happen.
5 on the ledge
· Kev Brown featuring Kenn Starr and Quartermaine "Say Sumthin" (I Do What I Do) Fans of Pete Rock, 9th Wonder and Ali Shaheed Muhammad will dig Brown's familiar but essential approach to Soul/Jazz-influenced Hip Hop.
· Ol' Dirty Bastard "Dirty Run" (Osirus: The Official Mixtape) Tons of profanity, name-calling, threats and graphic humor over a danceable sample of David Bowie's "Fame." That's why we miss ODB.
· Kanye West "Crack Music" (Late Registration) Hip Hop's Boy Wonder draws a parallel between addictive, money-making music and the real thing on this message-heavy track.
· Oh No featuring Wildchild "Stomp That" (The Disrupt) Old schoolers might recognize the threadbare loop from X-Clan's "Verbs of Power," now updated with Wildchild's precisely executed lyrics.
· Hezekiah featuring Bahamadia "Gypsy Slang" (Hurry Up & Wait) 'Dia's tight, underground-influenced lyrics are the perfect match for this upbeat, soulful track produced by relative newcomer Hezekiah.
KEVIN BRITTON writes about Hip Hop music and its impact on popular culture. His column appears monthly in CityBeat.