CINCINNATI Nobody seemed to know why O.J. Simpson was hosting a rap show ... least of all O.J.
"I was very concerned," Simpson said of his appearance Saturday night at a
concert headlined by Juvenile and Foxy Brown. The NFL Hall of Famer took the
stage of Music Hall to a chorus of cheers mingled with boos (or were they
yelling "Juice"?) and fumbled with his microphone for nearly a minute before
speaking to the young crowd. "I knew the things that have taken place here in
Cincinnati and I know the people's spirit. Everybody looked like they were at
a funeral in here earlier."
Simpson was the special guest at the Return of Hip-Hop concert in the ornate
3,300-seat symphony hall. The show, which drew 1,200 fans, went on despite a
string of recent cancellations in the city by high-profile African-American
In August, the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati called for an economic
boycott, requesting that entertainers avoid Cincinnati until the Coalition's
demands for police and social reform are met. The shooting death of unarmed
19-year-old Timothy Thomas by a white officer last April
sparked three days of rioting that left the city divided along racial lines
and led to the boycott request.
Within the past month, comedian Bill Cosby, Motown great Smokey
Robinson and Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis have
upheld the boycott.
"Hip-hop has gotten a bad rap," Simpson said with a sly smile, wiping sweat
from his brow. "And I know all about bad raps." After underhanding a pair of
signed footballs into the crowd, Simpson promised to return later in the show
to toss some balls out to "some of you fine ladies."
The cameo by Simpson who was acquitted in 1995 of the murders of his
ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, in one of the
most widely publicized trials of the century was his third such appearance
in the past year.
He hosted a similar concert in August in Estero, Florida, which featured
Foxy, Wyclef and Noreaga and a poorly attended event in East Hartford,
Connecticut, on New Year's Eve.
Prior to Saturday's concert, local promoter Anthony Pierre of Mactone
Productions referred to O.J.'s appearance as a "healing" event for
Over-the-Rhine, the inner city area most affected by April's riots. Pierre
said that he had not been contacted by boycott organizers before the event.
"It just seemed like a selective boycott," he said.
Four boycott supporters briefly braved Saturday night's freezing rain to
protest the show. "O.J. knew about the boycott, but he wanted to buckdance
for the city," said Merry Stormer. The boycotters said they did not call for a boycott of the show because they were unable to find contact information for the event's promoters.
"A lot of young people see tremendous injustices in the court systems and
O.J. was the first one who had a trial and showed you can win," said
"Hurricane" Dave, program director for Cincinnati urban radio station the Wiz
(100.9 FM), by way of explaining why the hip-hop crowd seemed to embrace the
embattled ex-footballer. "The youth can relate to that fact that even after
he was proven innocent, he's still persecuted."
Florida rapper Spiderboy debuted a song written in honor of the football
player, "Peace in the Mind of O.J." It featured the refrain "Can't we make a
change ... we're losin' too many ... pray for a better day." Foxy performed
a half-hour set of hits, followed by headliner Juvenile, who hyped the crowd
with such sing-along tracks as "U Understand," "Back That Azz Up" and
The rappers in attendance Saturday aren't the only ones who seem to support O.J. While he didn't make the final cut, Ludacris did ask Simpson to be in the video for his posse track with LL Cool J and Keith Murray, "Fatty Girl," after the ex-football star turned up on the set to visit the shoot's stylist, who happened to be his daughter Arnelle.
"I was just thinking that we should get this man in this video," Ludacris said last summer. "It will be historical if we just get him in one scene. I went over
and asked him and he was like 'Hell yeah!' We got him in the video with a
girl dancing in front of him and he's making wild facial expressions."
A Tribe Called Quest references O.J. in their track "1nce Again," ("You eat Wheat Chex but still light in the ass and can't flex/ If one ni--a front I'ma make more pay/ 'Cause tonight, we gettin' off like O.J."), and Ice Cube brings him up in "Natural Born Killaz"("I never ever ever made a ho stay/ But I'm down with Dre/ Like AC is down with O.J.").
On Friday, several battered women's groups reported receiving a handful of
angry phone calls from women protesting the appearance by Simpson. Many fans
at the show, however, didn't seem to care either way about the Juice's
"I think it's nice that O.J. came," said Lisa Ashford, 26. "It's good that
he's around his people. If he was a regular person and was found innocent,
they'd leave him alone."
While Foxy screamed, "We love you, O.J.!" from the stage, a few fans thought
his presence merely detracted from what they came to see, the music. "I
didn't come for O.J.," said 21-year-old Charles Combs. "I don't care about
him. I came for Foxy and Juvenile."
"Yeah, f--- O.J.," said Jeff, 18, as he left the auditorium. Cradling one of
the four signed Simpson footballs, the teen, who would not give his last
name, looked over his shoulder into the auditorium where Simpson was shaking
hands with fans and added, "I don't give a f--- about O.J.!"