Article by Nathan Slavik
*all photos by Ben Simpson
Hip-hop may be deader than Britney Spear’s modeling career, but last night up-and comer Brother Ali, legendary rapper Ghostface Killah and the even more legendary MC Rakim proved hip-hop can still get live thanks to FlowTV, Ripe Digital Entertainment’s Hip Hop Live! Concert Tour. The three tight-rhyme spitters joined forces last night under the bright lights of Hollywood’s House of Blues in an effort to not only preserve hip-hop’s heart, but inspire a new generation to keep it beating for the rest of the century. Outside the venue a mile long line of BMW’s, Bentleys and Porsche's lined up, this is the Sunset Strip after all, but inside the gathering crowd was an oasis of realness in a plastic world. Plus one girl was wearing a Mexican wrestling mask and a cape. Just thought it deserved a mention.
I’ve waited my entire career to write this sentence, ready? So I was hanging out with Rakim as he talked about everything from his adolescent conversion to Islam to his refusal to sign a record deal with Dr. Dre, but mostly about his upcoming album The 7th Seal.
“The whole state of hip-hop is crazy right now, we need to take accountability for hip-hop and take control over it. That’s why the game needs this album, why the hood needs this album,” Rakim drawled with his searching eyes barely visible under his black NY cap. Finally a stage hand interrupted our conversation to tell Rakim the crowd was ready. “To quote Swizzy, it’s showtime!” Rakim announced, cutting through the throng of friends and groupies to make his way to the stage.
The Rythem Root Allstars, a 10-piece live band that would provide the musical accompaniment for the night, already has the crowd movin by the time Brother Ali took the stage. Ali declared “tonight’s show is going to have no exaggeration, no hyperbole,” easy for Ali to say, you don’t have to exaggerate when you’re an albino-MC with crazy skills and a commanding stage show.
Ghostface Killa and his heavyweight necklace game
Ali’s last forceful notes had barely faded when Ghostace Killa stormed into the room (after the world’s longest intro) and proceeded to tear up the stage, almost literally. Burdened by a collection of gold chains that would have made Slick Rick jealous, the Wu-Tang alumnus was forced to deliver his infamous abstract-thug rhymes hunched over, even after he gave a couple to the guy who’s sole role on stage was apparently to hold his stuff. During one of his many monologues Ghost pointed out that, “most of these other rappers are fake. Believe me, I’ve met most of em and when I step into the room they all get real quite.” I can’t disagree. Even the one obligatory way-too-old-to-be-here white guy went off when they blasted Run.
Rakim is still the greatest of all time
By the time Rakim took his rightful place on the “greatest rapper of all-time” throne (sorry Weezy it’s true) the crowd was worked into a full frenzy. The man didn’t even have to say a rhyme, the audience already knew every word. It’s a privilege to watch a true legend work a crowd with the same energy he’s been slaying heads with for over twenty years. Rakim may not be in his absolute prime anymore, but Rakim laying down Paid in Full and The Ledge is like playing a pick-up game with Michael Jordan; the shocking thing is how much better he is than everyone else, and how little he’s really trying. Everybody shout it with me; “I came in the door, I said it before…”
After paying my surprisingly large tab (the better the show, the higher the bill) I spilled back onto the Sunset Strip with the 500 other hip-hop denizens I had been jumping next to for the last three hours. It was the kind of show you wished would never end, and as I began my well-past midnight walk home I just tried to remember the words of Ghostface Killa, “none of these mother****ers can do it like me, except Rakim.” It’s my new favorite motto, I’m thinking of having it embroidered on a pillow. The Hip-Hop Live tour will be going on until November 21, probably in your city.
Hip-hop live at the House of Blues
For more information on Hip-Hop Live, please log on to Flow TV