Ah, Brooklyn. The pedestrian flavor of wildly varying culture, the brownstone housing and screeching of kamikaze cab wheels, the constant, faint scent of a nearby pizzeria... there's nothing quite like the neighborhoods just south of Manhattan's massive grid complex, home to a world of uniqueness and character.
With a rich atmosphere of culture and community, it's of little surprise that the 2011 Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, a week-long celebration of Brooklyn's unique community and Hip-Hop culture, culminating in an all-star musical extravaganza on the final day (Sat. July 16), was a fantastic success. Performances by Sean P, M.O.P., Kendrick Lamar, Diamond District and more were topped by a guest-packed performance by New Yorker and Hip-Hop legend Q-Tip of iconic rap outfit A Tribe Called Quest. Hell, even Kanye showed up to show his love for the big B.
By celebrating the very things that enrich the city with such vivid personality, Brooklyn has once again illustrated why it's a vital hub of Hip-Hop culture. Festivities began on July 11, with several varying events during the week, leading up to the Main Day finale. Monday was the Show & Prove Super Bowl, where up-and-coming rappers and artists who had previously qualified competed for the chance to open at the main event. Tuesday, an art event entitled “Under The Influence” focused on celebrating the visually artistic side of hip hop, including famed hip hop photographer Jamel Shabazz and several other hip hop-related artists. Wednesday, Brooklyn Bodega, the organizers of the festival, held Bodega Education Initiative panel discussions on journalism and the music business.
Thursday’s Salute The DJ show featured a dizzying array of turntable masters, with the iconic Marley Marl conducting a symphony of appearances by local legends Cold Crush Brothers, the Force MDs, Roxanne Shante, Craig G and Keith Murray. On Friday, Brooklyn Bodega dedicated time in a tribute to individuals and organizations who have positively contributed to Hip-Hop, Brooklyn and the Bodega organization with the first Bodega Recognition Awards.
The main event, however, didn't occur until Saturday, when the festival culminated in a two-stage marathon performance by various high-profile artists. Tucked under the Brooklyn Bridge, artists spit flow and celebrated Hip-Hop culture in front of the bay, with the Statue of Liberty in clear view from the waterfront and New York's legendary skyline as a backdrop.
The atmosphere was low-key and celebratory, with minimal security and a true sense of self-policing community taking precedence over the standard festival chaos. Local vendors with a taste for Brooklyn culture provided fantastic local cuisine, while graffiti battles and several family-oriented events for the Family Day portion of the day brought out the little ones.
Shad's performance early on was a fantastic force of flow, drawing comparisons to an edgier Common while captivating the crowd in the blazing heat of the day. The main stage pit area rapidly filled before he was three bars into his first song, a physical sign of support from attendees letting their ears guide them.
Formidable female MC Eternia was clearly ecstatic to be in the house, leaping down into the crowd area to get close to fans while spitting high-energy rhymes and riling the crowd.
Lords of the Underground ratcheted up the temperature in the side stage tent, bringing a celebratory vibe to the graffiti battles taking place nearby, where artists vied for cash prizes by illustrating their visual depictions of Hip-Hop culture in Brooklyn. The results were fantastic:
Kendrick Lamar performed a truncated set that was met with ecstatic enthusiasm, before Brooklynite duo M.O.P. showed up and took the energy to an even higher level with aggressive rhymes. Billy Danze & Lil' Fame's impact remains solid as ever in Brooklyn, where the crowds welcomed their hometown boys with ear-ringing cheers.
Backstage was a who's-who of figures in the Hip-Hop community showed their love, including Jeru Da Damaja, Grand Daddy I.U., Michael Rapaport, Freeway, Jakk Frost, Statik Selektah, Bumpy Knuckles and more.
Following a warm-up set by DJ Ali Shaheed of A Tribe Called Quest, host Ralph McDaniels introduced his bandmate Q-Tip, the festival's headliner, who arrived and kicked the day's events into high gear.
Read more on Q-Tip, Kanye, Busta Rhymes and more (with video) on Page 2!
Clearly energized, Tip was a live wire of excitement, bounding around the stage during songs like “Verses from the Abstract” and “Ride,” and even screaming a few times at the end of “Electric Relaxation”. The crowd was a little subdued for his tastes, however, something the veteran MC immediately took issue with ”What’s the problem, y’all good?” he asked. “You paid your money to come in here, not to stand, but to move… This is the Brooklyn Hip-hop Festival, right?”
Guest Monie Love drew howls of approval when she joined Tip onstage for “Buddy” and “Monie in the Middle.” Next up was the inimitably smooth Black Thought of The Roots, who locked in even the most distracted of festivalgoers. Putting the enthusiasm at a fever pitch was the next star guest, Busta Rhymes, who knocked out “Scenario,” “Oh My God,” and his own current hit, “Look at Me Now” with barking bravado and his signature animated expressionism.
Then all hell broke loose. Teyana Taylor’s “Can we get much higher?” began blasting through the speakers, eyes widened and cats looked at each other in a "Is this really happening?" kind of way. Seconds later, Mr. Kanye WEst appeared in a retro jersey and backwards hat, grabbing a mic for the first verse of his album-kickoff ”Dark Fantasy”. He followed with a loose take on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “All of the Lights” before teaming up with Tip for a blistering rendition of “Award Tour.”
As the breathless Hip-Hop heads tried to keep their swagger-cool despite the presence of a man who's about to drop the Summer's central talking point (a collaboration album with Jay-Z called Watch The Throne), Ye and Tip made their mutual affection clear for the masses, playing off one another and building to a powerful climax. Moments later, Kanye was gone, off in his Maybach to some high-end fashion show or game-crushing new project. Who knows?
Q-Tip ended his show by discussing Michael Rapaport‘s documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life, a controversial behind-the-scenes look at A Tribe Called Quest's rise to fame. Rather than play into the drama surrounding the film, Tip only encouraged people to go see it, calling it “a true hip-hop artifact” that he was “humble to be a part of.”
On a perfect Summer day under the Brooklyn Bridge, we were humbled to be a part of such a monumental but neighborly event. Big thanks to the Brooklyn Hip Hop Fest for putting in just the right blend of local flavor, structural atmosphere and fun for a perfect Summer festival in the city.
All photos: Johnny Firecloud