Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival Proves Hip Hop's DNA Is 99.9% Bars
All humans share 99.9 % of the same DNA and Hip Hop festivals are no different. The general DNA structure of a Hip Hop Festival consists of :
- Mix of nationalities (mostly wearing Wu-Tang shirts)
- Warm embrace of chest rattling bass
- Occasional bouts of crowd disinterest due to 1. prolonged technical difficulties and/or 2. bad setlists
- Heavy focus on the "Turn up"
The 10th annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival set up shop at 50 Kent Ave and on the surface was similar to 99.9% of the other Hip Hop festivals.
Then the bars came and this festival quickly entered the .1%.
Those typical technical difficulties arose in the form of CyHi Da Prynce's DJ experiencing an extended delay. As the Host Torae attempted to stall by asking fans about their favorite part of the show so far, cracking jokes and until he informed the DJ "I don't have 10 minutes of material" to keep the crowd's interest. What did Torae and the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival fill that time with?
Torae invited Thirstin Howl III and Channel Live's Hakim Green for two impromptu acapella verses. The crowd had a tepid response to Howl's stop-and-go dense flow. But that changed once Hakim Green began breaking down the etymological roots and societal ramifications of the word "nIgger". Lines such as "I never thought Obama would be my n*gga" and ironically, "if Jigga is my n*gga then how can he be Jehovah" sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Rick Ross' biggest hit of his career was on a song where he felt like former Black Mafia Family gangster Big Meech, a claim which incited acrimonious responses from those who actually knew Big Meech. CyHi Da Prynce repurposed the chorus for his song Hystori mixtpae cut "Mandela", proudly proclaiming "I feel like Nelson Mandela." When CyHi concluded his four-minute energetic performance, asking for the crowd to "make some noise", the thousands in attendance simply applauded. But, these were not the obligatory applause given to a soft spoken folk singer awkwardly place in the middle of a Hip Hop-dominated concert. These fans, who let out collective "ooh's" at almost every expertly crafted metaphor CyHi spat, applauded instead of raucously voicing their appreciation because when your undivided attention is paralyzed by the power of words, slapping your hands together is the only physical action you can do while your brain is busy processing what just happened.
The Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival's DNA could have been easily deduced by the fact that its main attraction had not released much music in the past four years and was hardly seen in the United States of America, in fact. Jay Electronica has not been seen on stage since the Class of 2014 were freshmen and in that time has released enough songs for an Illmatic-sized EP/album. However, an MC with no commercially successful songs, no endorsement deals and very little press outside of dating an heiress to multi-billion dollar family had thousands of people awaiting his arrival impatiently. Flanked by the Nation of Islam, Jay Electronica was backstage moments before his first performance in New York City in over four years with a relaxed demeanor bordering on catatonic focus:
Once his husky bravado traveled from the mic he verbally informed fans he was giving that "Real Hip Hop" and not here to sell them any dance to mimic. With fans mouthing immensely complex lyrics to "Dimethyltryptamine" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" there was an inescapable feeling that lyric-driven performances were like hereditary dispositions, passed down from performer to performer. That's the immutable power of DNA (and Hip Hop, at its core). It shapes without a readily visible shape of its own and it influences without prejudice.
Even if you're worth over a half-billion dollars.
The biggest surprise of the 10th annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival was not simply that Jay Z descended from his unofficial arena-only throne to spread some words to the people as a guest during Jay Electronica's 4:55 P.M. set. Not even the fact that with Jay Z donning a Five Percent Nation chain and the Nation backing him, his performance with Jay Electronica resembled either a faux initiation or a civil rights rally. The most surprising moment at a Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival predicated on the advancement of lyricism was Jay "I Have Enough Hits For My Own Festival" Z greeting the unsuspecting crowd with his presence by performing a 2003 mixtape song he's never uttered live:
No "99 Problems". No "Forever Young". None of his radio-tested, stage-approved go-to hits. Jay Z wanted one of the first things many of the spectators have ever heard from him live to be: somebody tell God that we got a couple questions here/my little cuz never ever seen a seventh year/So used to pain, I ain't even shed a tear".
He wasn't the only 44 year old MC spitting bars from the fountain of youth.
The understandable assumption would be that once Jay Z leaves, so does the show. While the number of "Hip Hop journalists" significantly decreased in the backstage area once Jay Z left, the crowd's energy may have faltered a bit, but never died. Pro Era's CJ Fly's full band performance was aesthetically pleasing but the crowd grew restless as he immediately followed one of the most historic performances ever in Brooklyn. However, it was the festival's closer, a 20+ year rap veteran whom not only revitalized the crowd but gave the crowd a living embodiment of the career sustenance offered by a high concentration on lyricism. Given the fact that Wu-Tang Clan used more words than Shakespeare, Raekwon executed what is probably the most impressive lyrical feat of the year and one that should come with a "Do not try this at home(or if you're a Sucka MC)" disclaimer.
He performed every single Wu-Tang Clan member's verse from "Triumph"!
The streets down Driggs Ave buzzed with "I can't wait for next year" and a few cyphers naturally sprouted on the gentrified corners of North 7th st and Bedford Ave. The sobering reality that washes over you after you exit 50 Kent Ave was that a concert of lyricism for over five hours is celebrated but rare. That inconvenient truth is the double-sided helix that Hip Hop is currently based upon. The Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival continues to prove that it is a rare mutative shift that hopefully passes down enough legendary shows with world-renowned artists and future stars to sprout more than impromptu cyphers, but imitators.