“I’m sitting on a stool, I feel like Sam Cooke,” a very wise Chuck D observed early Wednesday evening. A restless crowd at Chicago’s House of Blues regaled the Public Enemy frontman with applause and respect, though they didn’t want to hear stories about the history of hip-hop. Instead, they pined for “Bring the Noise”, “Welcome to the Terrordome”, or simply the slightest notion that the night’s main headliner would be gracing the stage sometime soon. Much to their chagrin, they’d have to wait another hour.
So went Chuck D’s latest experiment — The Hip Hop Gods Tour — a series of events that celebrate the Golden Age of old school hip-hop, specifically through performances by X Clan, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, Monie Love, Son of Bazerk, Wise Intelligent (of Poor Righteous Teachers), Awesome Dre, and Davy DMX. With Chuck D as the host and emcee, each performer hits the stage to deliver not only their music, but some historical context surrounding their work and how it impacted the hip-hop culture yesterday and today.
In theory, that sounds like an ingenious idea, something that diehard enthusiasts of the culture should appreciate. The problem, however, is that not everyone is a prospective scholar, and such was the case with Chicago’s beer-soaked audience. As Chuck interviewed Schoolly D, several patrons shuffled away for beers and a couple screamed out for more Public Enemy singles, as if they expected the guy to just immediately jump into song.
It was ridiculous. Hell, when Monie Love came out for her performance — admittedly, the strongest of all the opening veterans (side note: How good is “Monie in the Middle” still? Damn.) — she had to call out someone on their lewd and awkward behavior. So, yeah, some things on paper just don’t always translate well.
It definitely built up the anticipation for Public Enemy, though. Now, one would think three straight hours of old school hip-hop would fry the nerves, sending even the most ardent supporters into the streets. But, by the time Chuck D, Professor Griff, DJ Lord, and the remaining backing band and military dancers(!) hit the stage, the room just turned into a riot. From there on out, not one person could complain at the barrage of greatest hits that satiated the fans one by one. And once Flava Flav hopped on out, at first wearing a fuzzy robe and later donning his trademark clock, the fans appeared as if they were about to burn down the place.
Both Chuck and Flava are well into their fifties by now. Yet they have more energy on stage than just about any other hip-hop act on the circuit today, including youngsters like Odd Future. As expected, Flava assumed the persona of the uber-talented, bratty loud mouth with ADHD as he pogoed around, traded fist pumps with his adoring fans, strapped on a bass guitar, twisted around Chuck D, talked ad-infinitum, and topped it all off with a drum solo. Chuck D, on the other hand, chugged right alongside him, never leaving the microphone for more than 30 seconds at a time.
That energy, though, saved the night from feeling like a retread of greatest hits, which is essentially what it was, despite the fact that they’ve released two new albums this year. Save for “Timebomb”, which isn’t really that rare or deep come to think of it, every cut on the setlist could have conceivably fit on a retrospective album. At one point, they went on a bender that included “911 Is a Joke”, “Welcome to the Terrordome”, “Show ‘Em Whatcha”, “Bring the Noise”, and “Don’t Believe the Hype”. It was a pummeling experience that just grew louder and bigger and crazier with each ensuing cut. There was just no moment of respite, it was an all out war on the senses.
Chuck D also kept things local by bringing out a bevy of Chicago talent, including an historical legend like Uncle George Daniels. This additional facet spun the night into something unique and also shed layers on a genre that seemingly feels overdrawn these days. Hopefully those that weren’t stumbling back and forth from the bar, or waiting impatiently for “Fight the Power” (which, okay, was beyond rad live), took something home with them. It would just be a shame if all that good will towards history went to waste. Having said that, this writer wouldn’t be opposed to Chuck D hitting the blackboard anytime soon. Guy’s got game for education.
Public Enemy #1
Rebel Without a Pause
911 Is a Joke
Welcome to the Terrordome
Show ‘Em Whatcha
Bring the Noise
Don’t Believe the Hype
Can’t Truss It
He Got Game
Shall Not Be Moved
Harder Than You Think
Shut ’em Down
Flava Flav Drum Solo
Fight the Power