Rock Steady Crew Anniversary (By Pizon)
“Beat Street was 21 years ago, and Crazy Legs still looks the same.”
Ah, it’s been a minute since the Voice of Reason was last heard. If you do the math, this article was originally intended as a means of commentating on what I see. Since I already have rap for that (and the song about superficial bitches is coming soon), it quickly morphed into me writing about events I witness. Whether it be watching an awards show on TV, attending one of the notorious Jams (real heads fuck with the Scribble and Summer varieties), or just kicking it with Beyonce, I am going to do my duty as a member of the Hip Hop community and give you my perspective. But don’t get it twisted: I attend more than a handful of Hip Hop-related events per year. So why, then, is this page so infrequently updated? Because only a handful of events inspire me enough to write an article about. This year’s Rock Steady Crew Anniversary was one of them.
As you may or may not know, the Rock Steady Crew celebrates its anniversary every summer with a series of events in New York City. Since this attracts many out-of-towners to NYC, third party promoters book events within this time period to take advantage of the influx. This often results in multiple events going down on the same day. As it were, the most hyped event that Saturday was justifiably the QN5 Mega Show at the world-famous BB King’s in Times Square, which featured Ras Kass performing alongside QN5’s CunninLynguists, Tonedeff, Pack FM, Mecca, and Session. The show would be Ras’ first New York performance in years. It was also billed as the first time the entire QN5 roster all performed on the same night — which wasn’t entirely true, as the group Kynfolk did not appear. Way to overlook your own artists!
In any event, I was looking forward to the show, despite the hefty $25 entrance fee. True, I could have saved three bills by copping a $22 ticket in advance, but I’m too spontaneous for that. What if I ended up on the guest list? What if I got booked to perform elsewhere that night and couldn’t make it? What if I got in line that night and the person standing in front of me happened to have just won a ticket to the show on the radio after previously buying one, and would thus have an extra ticket he could sell me for only $20? OK, so maybe that last scenario is a little far-fetched, but as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. Never doubt the mind of a genius. In all seriousness, however, the show was well worth the twenty dollars I spent, and would have also been worth the two to five more it could have cost me. I knew this from the jump. And they knew I knew this, which is why the fuckers made me wait… and wait… and wait. Now, anyone who’s ever been to a Hip Hop show could tell you that these things never start on time. But Pack FM had insisted and insisted that this one would, and that if anyone got there late, he or she would risk missing out.
Yeah, he lied.
Doors were supposed to open at 11 PM. They didn’t open until around 12:30 AM. The show was supposed to start at 12 AM. As you could probably imagine, that didn’t happen. I’m not sure what time host The Bad Seed took the stage, but screw it. This thing was finally about to start. SUPER! I hit the bar as he shouted out the names of all his people in the house. That list may or may not have included me, as I was too busy ordering my obligatory overpriced Long Island Iced Tea to notice. If my name wasn’t mentioned, I guess I got what I deserved. Still, quite a few people in the crowd recognized me and introduced themselves to me. That always trips me out. Complete strangers picking my face out of a crowd and going out of their way to give me a pound. That’s nuts. One love to everyone who met me. I wish we could have had more time to chop it up, but we were both playing the same role that night: that of a fan. The last of a dying breed.
Just to clarify: New York crowds are a motherfucker. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is either a rapper or a DJ. The typical response even the best performers get from New York crowds is the arms folded “so what, I do this too, bitch” ice grill. And it’s really fucking sad, because a true artist isn’t intimidated by the talents of others. More often than not, those acting unimpressed are actually envious of those on stage. What they don’t realize is that if they spent their energy on their craft instead of trying to hold others back, then they’d be the ones on stage. It’s people’s insecurities that keeps everyone from having a good time. Fortunately, this show wasn’t about that. Heads came from all over the world to see this, and even the local artists in the house were there to show love (peace to the pre-show cipher). By the time QN5 was set to perform, we were amped. You won’t catch us ice grilling fresh MCs.
They began with a Summer Jam-style video package that was obviously prepared by Tonedeff. The clip featured footage of previous high-profile QN5 performances and appearances, including their commercial spots for MTV’s Hip Hop Week. It also sarcastically remarked about how much the major media outlets embrace all forms of Hip Hop, and illustrated this — or, actually, refuted this — by sampling footage from BET at various times over the course of the same night. Each time, the Mike Jones “Back Then” video was playing. This was followed by a picture of Rakim with Tone sarcastically commenting that “Rakim would be proud.” Hilarious. The “fuck Mike Jones” theme would be one that would continue throughout the night. I guess even talented artists aren’t above hating, though in this case the hate was productive, as it was done in good fun and designed to make everyone’s night more enjoyable.
Before each artist took the stage, the video screen would provide a proper introduction. This gave the show more of a professional feel: it felt more like being at a concert than just another rap show. In the past, the QN5 artists would commonly perform together, but this time each one held it down for dolo with individual sets. No artist would be seen on stage prior to his own set. Session kicked it off, with Debut backing him up. Previously, they would have to teach the crowd the call-and-responses for the chorus to “Don’t Do It,” but on this night that was not necessary. As soon as the beat dropped, the crowd went into a frenzy, rapping along with every word. They damn near blew the roof off when the chorus came around. A more appropriate finale could not have been chosen. But things were just getting started, of course. Up next was Mr. Mecca, who held it down without a hypeman, but surprised everyone when Buckshot and Steele randomly emerged to spit some shit during his set. Nice. Pack FM hit the stage next, but didn’t stay there for long, as he jumped down and performed his entire set from some milkcrates that he had set up in the crowd. Thank God for cordless mics. Unsurprisingly, his set was the livest of the night. After telling the crowd his sprained ankle would prevent him from performing his most popular song “Stomp” (there was even a back-and-forth chant on beat with the crowd yelling “Stomp!” and Pack responding “No!” repeatedly at the end of one of his instrumentals), he finally gave them what they wanted, breaking the milkcrates in the process. He then proceeded to perform the rest of his set atop a fan’s back. I am not making this stuff up.
A visibly stressed Tonedeff was up next, but that didn’t stop him from putting on the performance of his lifetime. From his old shit “Heads Up” to the Elite-produced “Issawn” off his new album, Tone left no stone unturned. I know I wasn’t the only one hoping KRS-ONE would come out for “Clear ‘Em Out,” but it’s all good. The CunninLynguists rounded out the QN5 portion of the show, starting with songs off their upcoming album, and ending with their better-known older songs with help from former member SOS. A hilarious moment occurred when Kno spotted a couple damn hear fuckin’ — they were really going at it — in front of the stage, and threatened to hit them with a New Kids on the Block pillow if they didn’t pay attention. Yes, he actually busted out the pillow.
Though they all held it down, I would have liked to see more of the collaborations between the artists performed. After all, how many times are all these cats in the same spot together? Bringing the whole squad back for songs like “Slogans” and “FYIRB (Remix)” would have been the perfect way to end the show. I later found out that this was indeed the plan, but since the show started so late, they had to cut time off their collective set so that Ras could still perform. Perhaps they should have cut that time out of opening act Pumpkinhead’s set instead? AZ and Sean Price were also in the house, but didn’t get to perform due to the time constraints. Anyway, shit was dope regardless. I guess I shouldn’t complain. Especially not with Ras Kass still about to take the stage. Right?
Well, he certainly did take the stage. Unfortunately, most of the crowd didn’t seem to care. They were clearly there for QN5, and when Ras started performing, they swarmed the side of the stage where the QN5 artists were gathered. This threw Ras off his game — even more so than he already was for having to start so late. His performance, though not wack by any means, was understandably lackluster. Though it was his name on the marquee outside BB King’s (while QN5’s was nowhere to be seen), the story inside BB King’s was completely different. Aside from the handful of fans that came just to see him, it was pretty much Ras who? And that’s not to say the QN5 fans didn’t know who he was, or even that they didn’t like him. They were just so spent from seeing the Baby Blue Armada tear shit up that they knew nothing could properly follow it. And you know what? I think Ras knew, too. He bitterly ended his set. I gave him a pound and kept it moving.
Meanwhile, everyone gathered outside in an attempt to congratulate the winning team and cop some merchandise in the process. See, BB King’s wanted 30% of the artists’ sales, and they weren’t having that, so they took it to the streets. But the boys in blue weren’t having that, as they threatened to arrest both the artists and the fans for selling shit on the street and loitering, respectively. So the victory celebration was short-lived. That was aight, though, because it was practically light out, I was tired as fuck, and I still had to catch the train back home, where I could finally re… OH SHIT! The official Rock Steady Crew anniversary event would be starting in a few hours. How in the world was I gonna pull this one off? I actually had forgotten all about it until I ran into Kno outside and he told me he had to speak to me, but that we could just talk “tomorrow” (which was really today already) instead. That eliminated the possibility of me sleeping in and skipping the show. Ironically, I would get my ass up and make it to the bitch, while he would not.
It was at the QN5 Megashow in 2003 that I first met Tonedeff and the CunninLynguists, and I’ve witnessed them come (pause) a long way since then. Their live show was always on point, but this one just took shit to a whole new level. I can now say with confidence that they are among the best live performers in Hip Hop, period. What makes them so special is that they always go out of their way to put on a good show, whereas everyone else just raps. More artists should follow their lead.
As inspiring as all that was, my journey was far from over. Of course, I had just missed the last train home, so I had to wait at Penn Station until the morning. I got home while most of the world was eating breakfast, set my alarm, slept for a few hours, woke up, and headed back into the city. Since this particular event was during the day, I knew I’d never be able to catch the whole thing, and I was cool with that. What I didn’t realize was that I’d get lost in Harlem trying to find the motherfucker, only to get there and have to wait in line for a few hours before I could get in. When I finally got inside the Cherry Lounge on W. 128th Street, The Emcee (formerly Jin Tha Emcee) was being introduced. He rocked his new song “Top 5 (Dead Or Alive),” emphasizing that “there ain’t no best!”, before spitting the ever so true quote found at the top of this article. Crazy Legs nodded in acknowledgment as Jin thanked him and everyone else in the house, noting that he “probably battled half of us in the past.” He then shouted out Tonedeff and Pack FM by name. I bet when he was recording the song “Thank You” for his Ruff Ryders album and he spit the line, “Shouts to Stronghold, Tone, and the rest of The Plague,” he didn’t realize that he’d be back in this same scene with these same cats just a year later. Still, this scene better suits him. He seemed content with where he was at. Shortly after disapearing into the crowd, I caught up with him, and he was excited to tell me about the new DVD he was moving, which he claimed showed all of his battles, from the time he was 14 in Miami, to his days in the New York City underground, to 106 and Park and beyond. I meant to pick one up from him right before I left, but he was gone before I was.
In the meanwhile, the End of the Weak cats held a cipher on stage that saw Mecca (“I’m in your girl’s mouth like a tongue ring”), Substantial (“I thought diamonds were a girl’s best friend/ So how come lately they seem to be attracting men?”), Vanguard, and others kick rhymes before Crazy Legs had everyone form a circle for his new generation Rock Steady b-boys and -girls to breakdance on the floor. I’m talking about Pizon, in Harlem, with Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady Crew throwing down. Can you get any more Hip Hop than that? When you’ve got DJ Evil Dee providing the break beats, the answer is yes. Around this time, my lack of sleep caught up to me, so I took a rest on the couch. When Keith Murray hit the stage, however, I was back up with the quickness. Keith’s set was dope, until he brought out G-Dep to perform “Special Delivery.” Dep got a nice ovation in his hometown, but he was so high that he literally stood there without uttering a word into the mic for a solid minute. While the beat was playing. Murray tried to save him by having Evil Dee drop the beat and ordering G-Dep to spit lyrics acapella, but he was too high for even that. All he could say was, “It’s an honor… an honor… an honor… an honor and a privelege to be here” in a tone so monotonous I was surprised no one was asking for Premier’s whereabouts. Finally, his man announced his new single on Bad Boy and had it played while Dep clumsily adlibbed over the whole track. No one booed, but no one cheered, either. Thankfully, Keith saved “The Most Beautifulest Thing in This World” for last, which picked the crowd back up. It was also announced that Black Rob was in the house, though he didn’t make an appearance.
There were afterparties jumping off. There was EOW later that night. But I was done. I got some Chinese takeout off 125th, hit the train, and went home. For once in my life, I had all the Hip Hop I could handle for one weekend. It was exhausting, but it was one of the most inspirational experiences I could have asked for. When people ask me why I go around saying I Am Hip Hop, I wish they’d gotten to experience events like these. ‘Cause if they had, they’d be screaming it with me.