The buildup to Madlib’s eventual appearance last night was way better than the appearance itself. ‘Lib is a passable rapper at best—he’s got an agile mind and can lay out those weird, weeded rhymes, but they sound best on his albums. He’s an auteur, not an entertainer. Last night was no exception. Once he made it to the stage at around midnight, he completely lost the crowd in his muddled, half-formed verses, skipping from one song to another at random, cutting songs short without warning. Dude never engaged the audience; instead he looked at his Nikes or at something invisible in the middle distance or spun a slow, hypnotized circle in the middle of the stage. He almost had a Lee “Scratch” Perry/insane mad professor thing going on, but he couldn’t maintain a beat or flow long enough to solidify even that degree of groovy freakshow. Bum deal.
Thankfully, Peanut Butter Wolf’s cavalcade of hiphop hits and videos was worth the price of admission. Wolf was cutting classic vids and tracks together—Fat Boys and Beastie Boys, and NWA and Wu, Mixalot and Herbie Hancock—all blended perfectly, with accompanying videos. It was an hour-long trip through the annals of hiphop, done with sound and visuals that illustrated how vibrant the style has been for so long. It was homage, it was nostalgia, and it was great.
Old schooler Percee P also made a splash with the crowd. J Rocc—easily as masterful a selector as Wolf—introduced him as the dude from the Bronx that’s been rapping since ‘79, and P came out in an open, black-and-gold button down and shades, looking like a high school gym teacher-slash-cell phone salesman from Miami. So he looked his age, so what? He sounded like fire, all Kool Moe Dee confidence and cadence, jazz-handsing his fingers as he rapped as if he were playing a sax solo. He and J Rocc ground out some golden-era-type stuff, and P really shined on a couple a capellas that had the crowd laughing.
Guilty Simpson had the early crowd all wrapped up, too—dude somehow makes rapping about guns, bitches, drugs, and money sound fresh, at least a little bit. It’s his measured, no-frills flow sounding deadly serious, even as he cracked jokes. Again, J Rocc was the perfect accompaniment, flipping J Dilla (who got a theater’s worth of props last night) and Madlib, all old soul melodies jacked by big, low beats.
Besides PB Wolf, the highlight was Kariemm Riggins, a behind-the-scenes scene stealer known for his production work for Common and Talib, among others. Last night, after holding it on the mike for a couple tracks, he sat down behind the drum kit and grew a second pair of arms, leaning back into the cut and playing against J Rocc’s turntables, real-deal break beats countering turntable effects. Both guys showed true prowess—Riggins most clearly; he’s an amazing talent on drums—especially when they both ended up banging out “Paid in Full,” supposedly totally off the cuff, definitely totally in synch. Madlib was there, behind the kit, orchestrating with his hands but sans microphone—the best look for him all night.