Public Enemy Gods of Hip Hop Tour @ The Vogue 12.4.12
Public Enemy, Monie Love, X Clan, Schooly D, Wise Intelligent, Leaders of The New School, Son of Bazerk and No Self Control, Awesome Dre
Tuesday, December 4
I had quite a few questions going into the Public Enemy show at the Vogue Theatre Tuesday night. Would Terminator X leave his ostrich stud farm to rock the ones and twos for Chuck D and co.? Had Flavor Flav's stint as a reality TV star been expunged from our collective cultural memory, and did it matter? And how has Chuck D accepted his role as a hip-hop elder statesman? I received answers to all of these questions (no, Terminator X was not present. And no, the memory of Flavor of Love has not been expunged, but it doesn't matter) and witnessed a hip-hop history lesson - with Chuck D as master of ceremonies in a sort of hip-hop Soul Train - featuring a vast array of characters from the genre's heyday.
The night began with an underwhelming performance from Detroit's own Awesome Dre following a spirited set by Son of Bazerk and No Self Control. They set the tone for the night, delivering an onslaught of 808 beats, classic samples and pleas for Facebook and Twitter followers. In fact, Chuck D prodded every performer that night to promote their Facebook and Twitter accounts and then delivered a few speeches on the state of rap music that made him seem like the hip-hop Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.
Next was Wise Intelligent (of the group Poor Righteous Teachers) who was perhaps the most skilled of the night's performers and although his preachy A capella breaks between songs grew a bit tiresome, his unique brand of Afrocentric apocalyptic consciousness rap invigorated the restless crowd. Wise Intelligent was followed by Leaders of the New School (actually just Dinco D, no Busta Rhymes, which is kind of like saying the Impressions are playing only to find Sammy Gooden and Fred Cash singing without Curtis Mayfield) and then the ineffable Schooly D who gave the first truly dynamic performance of the night, one that reminded me I was in the presence of legends. Monie Love and the X Clan rounded out the openers and continued the trajectory of social issue awareness with small speeches about women in hip-hop and the current state of rap culture.
Then Public Enemy came on the stage. They were a mess; a brutal, furious, yet calculated mess that sounded as if it was about to fall apart at any second. Backed by a four piece band including newcomer DJ Lord, they trudged through hit after hit ("Rebel Without a Pause," "911 is a Joke," "Bring the Noise," "Don't Believe the Hype") with the sort of youthful abandon that gave Tipper Gore the fantods and articulated the experience of minorities and maligned individuals worldwide. Back by soldiers and a crew nearly a dozen deep, Public Enemy seemed fresh, fully alive and capable of the all things they were in 1991. Believe the hype.