Nostalgia is a reoccurring theme in hip hop. From debate about musical styles to throwback fashion suddenly snapping back into the scene, hip hop music and culture is just old enough now where the good ol’ (school) days are embraced by many with wistful recollection and fond remembrance.
While some artists channel rap days of yore into their original artistry, there are a few organizations that pay homage to the legends of rap’s yesteryears through events that gleefully attempt to recapture the vibe of a time when rap was still a toddler, strong enough to stand on its own, mischievous and creatively adventurous.
One such series of New York City events perfectly exemplifies this desire to reconnect to an earlier era, and has been building a strong following and positive reputation since their inaugural event, a tribute concert to A Tribe Called Quest, where two dozen New York-area indie MCs performed classic cuts by the fabled group, backed by a pitch-perfect live band recreating ATCQ’s timeless tracks. The effect was stunning, with this clever mix of cover band and karaoke thrilling audience members, often evoking the crowd to sing-along with the inspiring stage show.
It would be the first of many in this series. Outkast would follow, as well as The Fugees and then a line-by-line recreation of Snoop Dogg’s classic debut, Doggystyle, skits and all.
The series reached a milestone of sorts on March 24, 2012 at Hiro Ballroom. The theme: 1987’s groundbreaking “Together Forever” tour, which showcased Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, and at the time, the most successful rap group in history, Run-DMC.
To an engaged crowd hundreds deep, many decked out in 1980s rap regalia, MCs and musicians emphatically resurrected hits from these three influential groups, channeling these legends in a deftly choreographed stage show. From “Fight The Power,” to “No Sleep till Brooklyn,” from “Sucker MCs,” to “King of Rock,” Hiro Ballroom was transported back to the time of shell-toed Adidas, truck jewelry and dookie rope chains by an electric live atmosphere that few other throwback jams can quite capture.
Neither are strangers to the NYC indie hip hop scene. iLLspoKinN has toured the world as an MC, and alongside co-founder, co-host and co-performer Mariella, has helmed the ten year run of Freestyle Mondays, a weekly, live band, open mic jam session, currently being held at 116 on MacDougal St.
Tru Statement Entertainment’s Jeff Garabaldi, also an MC, works with partner Casey McGuire and others in the Tru Stetement consortium, managing and marketing several artists, promoting events and producing video projects.
Together, the two entities complement each other perfectly. Freestyle Mondays has produced a slew of quality MCs throughout the years, many moving on to some form of industry recognition, but more importantly, the series has created something of an extended family among underground and indie MCs from which to draw from for the Props to Hip Hop events.
Interested MCs have to do little more than ask to be in, though those who have participated in prior or affiliated events get priority. The Props to Hip Hop team storyboard the performances and respective verses among the many participants, while an incredibly talented and adaptable musical team flawlessly works to translate hip hop’s greatest hits into an impressive live music representation of iconic rap beats.
This night was the largest in the Props to Hip Hop Series, topping out with more than 500 in attendance. Previous shows were held at Sullivan Hall, with audiences less than half that.
However, thanks to a strong word-of-mouth campaign and positive press with each show, the audience grew. With each show, the orchestration was tighter. The growth of the show and the professionalism of organizers, musicians and performers allowed Props to Hip Hop to graduate to this next level, and the reaction of those in attendance demonstrated an approval by the masses that should certainly serve to strengthen the movement.
The spectacle was not without hiccups as a few unexplained pauses and “dead air” between songs awkwardly stuck out, perhaps only because the rest of the show was otherwise a smoothly oiled machine. Either way, there was nothing that seriously impacted the fluidity or interfered with the enjoyment of the show, as the participants were able to adeptly capture the rebellious tone of Public Energy, the zany antics of the Beasties, and the cocky confidence of Run-DMC throughout the night, much to the delight of those in attendance.
In Props to Hip Hop tradition, deciding the subject of the next incarnation was a pseudo-people’s choice. While the audience (and many of the performers themselves) heartily expressed their desire to witness Wu-Tang Clan immortalized in Props to Hip Hop fashion, the public was instead presented with two potential themes to vote on for an upcoming summer 2012 show: Timeless Singles (i.e., “Rump Shaker,” “Funky Cold Medina”) or Classic Hip Hop Duos (i.e., Black Star, Redman & Method Man).
Classic Singles won the vote, which works out well. To continue to grow, it is probably more strategically beneficial for the Props to Hip Hop series to offer performances that appeal to as wide-range of hip hop friendly concergoers as possible. Universally liked subject matter, like Run-DMC or timeless singles, are a little less Inside Baseball, ensuring that the wonderfully diverse mix of ethnicities and age groups that was in the mix at Hiro Ballroom will continue to attend.
For those nostalgia-hungry hip hop heads that made it out, March’s Props to Hip Hop tribute show truly placed some of the best of the New York hip hop scene front and center. Talented, charismatic MCs, dressed in pre-hipster hipsterwear, ADIDAS track suits, fedoras and gold rope chains, spitting rambunctious rap songs over funky beats to a wildly enthusiastic audience.
It’s as if it was 1987 all over again.
Well, except for the drink prices.
Props to Hip Hop will present “Classic Singles & One Hit Wonders, Friday, July 20, 2012. Visit www.propstohiphop.com, Props to Hip Hop on Facebook, or check the Birthplace Magazine New York hip hop event calendar for updated event information.