(puts on Ill Communication on vinyl which has been tastefully remastered)
Friday at just before noon, I hopped in my car solo and put on the blitz toward Dallas which was the promised land as far as I was concerned on Friday because, that night, De La Soul was going on at House of Blues. I get there with a little time to have a few drinks and some dinner before heading downtown for the show. We're grubbing at Taco Cabana and I get a text from Wil asking my location. Last I heard, he wasn't going to be there so I was delightfully surprised that he was gonna be there. Ten years ago, we caught De La in Denver. Ten years later in Dallas.
Saw some cat lose his cash to a bum underneath Central posing as a parking attendant. Most gangsta thing I've seen in a bit. That's probably because I live in the Yellow and nothing hood happens here except for meth trafficking and vandalism. I mean, I'm from the panhandle and I wouldn't fall for that garbage. Whatta sucka.
We're out front where the line was non-existent and this cat walks up to me, notices my stylish Root Down lowrider tee (still got some, homeslice, if you're interested) and asks, "What y'know about the Root Down, man?" I stand there for a second thinking of a pretty obvious answer, but not wanting to assume we're talking about the same thing. To buy me some thought, I ask him to repeat it. "Huh?"
"I said whatta y'know about the Root Down? That's a sick shirt."
"Uh, I write for it."
"Dope. That's my fam." (fam would be short for family, but is really to represent someone that you have a close affiliation with, normally not a blood relative).
"Yeah." I stand there like a dumbass for a second thinking do I know this cat? I ask, "Oh yeah, how so?" He said "I'm DeLoach from Strange Fruit Project (Texas hip hop). Yeah, I'm down with them."
Them? Bro, it's just me. Now, I recalled doing a review on one of my year-end lists a few years back of the Strange Fruit Project. I imagine that's the only way he would know of The Root Down. I nod awkwardly and shoot him a half-grin and walk away.
We walk into the concert hall and it's perfect. The floor has a small assembly of hip hop heads. Most of them in huddles talking about real hip hop and reminiscing. It was like a gathering of likeminded and jaded hip hop heads. Most of them slightly between a scowl and a smile. Like they're somewhere between a rant on Lil' Wayne and a beautiful memory of the first time they heard Stakes is High. And, unlike most concerts I've gone to, this one was like walking into a living room filled with friends, except I knew no one. The fact that you were there and paid the price of admission, elevated your coolness to a level that could not be matched. You were instantly fam. Jacko, who was an awesome date who provided fine conversation and a safe ride home, and I meandered around the crowd. I was looking for Wil.
Then, right there before me, the great Wil Hall with his 11 year-old son, Bijan, in tow--both sporting the Daunda garb (need the hook up, Wil). It was Bijan's first show and, Wil, doing the right thing, raised his kid on De La from an early age. To Bijan, this was like finally seeing the Beatles. Shy kid, but I would be to if I was the only cat younger than 25 walking around at a De La Soul show.
I've determined that I'm simply too impatient anymore to watch anyone perform that's not on the face of the ticket. Now, when I got my ticket in the mail, it said "DE LA SOUL" and no one else. Reality is that cling-ons and opening acts are just life at any show and especially at a hip hop show. Tonight's little dingleberry was a guy named Kenan Bell. Hmm, that's a little rough. But let's roll with it. Some hipster with this big ol' bright Nikes with the tongue flipped out and Kanye sunglasses, hat cocked off to the side. Lots of attitude. He pulled with him a three-piece band which played over a dat which I thought to be a little weird.
Let's make something perfectly clear here, when you're opening for cats that have put twenty years into the game. You'd be better off just telling a few jokes, buying everyone a round of drinks and then just put on Black Sheep's A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. Dude was eager and wanted to speak his clout, but I'll go on record to say that I've never been impressed by an opening act that I wasn't expecting to see meaning: if you ain't on the poster outside, you might as well just find a stool at the bar. Wil said that I've become pretty jaded. It's one of the wonderful biproducts from working in the industry. You become pretty cynical of the whole rap game. It's all fake. It's not real. Nothing's real and rappers' attempts to keep it real are laughable at the very best. The rapper's plight is a futile and bizarrely comical irony. Kenan Bell is more a cartoon character up there than a rapper. While he passionately strives for the audience's respect by desperately reaching for reminiscent moments about De La Soul between his songs, no one in the audience believes him and they kinda roll their eyes like, "Next." By about the third song and very little applaud, Kenan and his band are reduced to the "De La is just about to come out, ya'll, we promise" act. Then please see yourself to the side.
The kid playing the keys goes and pulls some old lady who is, by his proclamation, down with De La. I'm not sure who she was and he could've been truthful, but to everyone in the audience, she was just an old lady. And then there was a blonde girl who was, uh, I don't know, about seven months pregnant. They bring them out from sidestage. He sits the old lady down at the keys and the pregnant girl stands center stage and he tells her just to dance along.
The blonde pregnant girl starts doing these weird gyrations like she's dancing for money and I keep thinking, "Someone tell her that she doesn't need to do this and it's totally not worth it for the audience." She danced through the whole song and, meanwhile, every iPhone in the house was snapping shots of this chick dancing. No one, at this point, is watching Kenan and friends. In fact, to prove it, I searched "pregnant blonde De La Soul Dallas" and found this tweet. Wil and I were halfway between a gutbusting laugh and tearful breakdown. What the hell?
Kenan ends his set without anymore acts of rookie dumbassery and it's met with a collective sigh from the audience. Bring on De La. Next was some guy who simply was in too deep and panted as he moved from one side of the stage to the other. He kept yelling into mic and had us doing crowdcalls to make sure we were aware and awake. Here's a tip, if you wanna hear us rock it, bring out De La. His "set" (which was more a Fat Man Scoop impersonation) lasted about fifteen minutes and then, again, another sigh from the crowd. The Dallas crowd is a funny one in this respect because, while I like the Denver crowd and the Austin crowd because they just like to have fun, sometimes you respect the other side of the experience--the crowd that just has too many road miles to act like you're into something. For me, it's what I would liken to an Apollo-like experience. In Austin, the stinky little white kids will dance to anything. In Denver, the don't know any difference sometimes between the opening act and the headliner so it could take an opening act halfhours to wrap up because they're getting too much love. Dallas, though, like the many times before, meet anyone outside of the headliner with this "get lost" coldness. I used to think it was played, but tonight, I'm in the same boat and I'm thankful they're as discerning as they are.
I head to the bar in the down time and am walking back to my spot and I hear some dude holler out, "The Root Down!" as I walk by. I kinda shoot off a half-look at it's DeLoach from earlier. I talk to him again and kinda work to straighten out how he knows my work and how, apparently, I'm fam to him. Turns out, he was referring to The Root Down which is a production company out in LA that puts on these hype parties out in Cali. I knew of them, but assumed that, certainly, he was talking about the dope-ass blog that you're now reading. We spoke for a second and he mentioned his album. Checked it out earlier this evening and it's pretty ill. Only available digitally, though. Rappers don't even shop a physical good anymore. Game's changing, folks. Here's a picture of the cover art. Try not finding it in the racks of your favorite record store.
It would be probably another thirty minutes before the house lights would go down and De La would take stage. Trust me this, it'd be worth every second of the wait and every mile down the road. I had every intention to make note of the setlist, but unfortunately, I was shaking my ass so much, it made it a little difficult. With them on stage were about ten instrumentalists who provided the backdrop to Maseo's turntables. Everyone had so much energy. Pos was on fire. Maseo was getting down. Trugoy, well, he just stood there, but dude's big. What can he do?
With controlled exuberance, they blew through their standard set which included a hype version of "Jenifa" and a super-nice version of "Pass the Plugs" while the band played the break to "Pass the Peas" by the JBs. The first portion of the set focused around Three Feet material as this marks the 20th anniversary. But they hit everything from Three Feet to Grind Date.
As much as I hate to say things like "my personal highlight" because I know you really don't care, my personal highlight was the performance of "I Am I Be" where Pos came out to a dark stage illuminated only by the crowd's cellphones and spit that golden verse that I've recited a thousand times. At one point, Pos hops into the crowd from the side stage and makes his way toward the middle of the crowd as he spits verse and, as he's meandering through the crowd, you see people moving toward him, throwing an arm around him and posing for a picture. As he approaches the stage, there's Bijan wide-eyed and jaw at the floor. Pos throws his arm around Bijan and keeps rocking his verse. Lucky kid.
The harmony was temporarily broken up by two dudes shoving each other behind us. F'real, who fights at a De La show? Dallas is a little uptight sometime.
All in all, the show probably lasted about an hour forty-five and I bought the obligatory tour shirt on the way out. I would've bought one of everything at the merch table, but it was shockingly absent. Their merch table was a long table with a box of shirts on it. "Twenty bucks," said some cat from Kenan Bell. Easy.
Wil mentioned in a post later on Facebook that he believes "hip hop will be the only genre saved by its elders." I thought of that notion for a while afterwards and how true it possibly is. Hip hop has always put their future in the trusted hands of the next generation. They've always passed the torch, but can they save the genre from its ruin? It would seem unlikely. Delay it, maybe. But not likely to save it. Rock and roll has always been pushed forward by the sounds of its youth. Blues and jazz, even have reinvented themselves by the progressive advancement of its youthful core. But hip hop's youthful core, so to speak, only regurgitates what has already been done. The problem is, for the older cats, hip hop is a youthful game. It's a sport. And there's a point when you're just not relative because your hair's turning grey and you got kids (Beastie Boys), know one rhymes like that anymore (Rakim), you're just not as good looking as you used to be (LL). Rappers will get old and what's more useless in a young man's game than the old vet? I can talk about the first four De La records until I'm blue in the face, but it doesn't make them any more relavant. I said it before and I'll say it again, it's gonna take a lot more than a dude in Texas with a blog to bring it back. But God knows I'm trying.
Before the De La set, some cat walked up behind us and struck up conversation when he saw Wil with his son. His sentiments were much in the same vein to say that the garbage on the radio is such a far cry from what we fought for growing up and how he doesn't let his son listen to any radio. Like Wil, he's been raising his kids on De La. It got me thinking that, not only will its elder acts save the genre, but it's elder fans. Over the years, I can name virtually hundreds of cats that I've shared a hip hop memory with either over the first Pharcyde record, an Atmosphere show, a debate about which Public Enemy is the best, but those cats don't listen to it anymore. It was, eh, an outfit they wore for a year or so or a book they read over a summer. I'm reading a book that likens the hip hop experience (specifically to a white listener) as a tourist attraction. Something that we like the convenience of going to and exiting without truly connecting to the experience. In many ways, I think that applies far beyond the white listener even though, yes, I'm white and, yes, I listen and so were many of the folks I'm speaking of. Not that necessarily you have to commit to the fight to preserve the genre as a listener, but I would contend that it'll come down to the audience that is currently, say, thirty years or older that will ultimately help preserve this hip hop game. I mean, we're raising kids now. Not that I think it's as important to instilling values, setting the foundation for a purposeful life, but I've always found that a steady diet of hip hop has given me perspective. It's in the hands of all of us older cats. Know your role. Each generation has its music and it's only worth something if you pass it on. Our parents gave us Beatles, they gave us the Stones, they gave us James Brown. What's our musical legacy and are we committed to passing the torch to our kids?
It's Tuesday and, for me, it's hell week. Let's go.