NEW YORK Hip-hoppers, R&B princesses and film and TV stars all came together Tuesday night to celebrate life and promote messages that hopefully will help us to sustain it. Life Beat, the organization dedicated to making the public aware of how to stop the spread of AIDS, put on its second Urban Aid concert with some help from the event's co-chairmen, P. Diddy and Russell Simmons (Click for photos from the event).
Diddy, Alicia Keys, Ja Rule, Ashanti, Fat Joe, Musiq, the Roots and headliner Jay-Z all graced the stage of the Beacon Theatre for the taping of the event. Mike Epps, Ice Cube's main man in the "Friday" movie franchise and in "All About the Benjamins," served as the night's host.
The Roots crew opened with a hip-hop jam session, playing a medley of old school covers, and Musiq followed with a brief set of neo-soul dishes.
By the time Alicia Keys came on, all the stragglers were present and the audience was settled in and ready to party. She started with her uptempo ditty "Girlfriend" before slowing down the pace and playing the piano for "How Come You Don't Call Me" and "Fallin'." And while Keys got rousing applause (it's hard to remember when she hasn't during her year-and-a-half-long championship run), the event belonged to the MCs.
After 10 years in the game, Fat Joe has undeniably arrived as a major crossover act. Showing that his mainstream success hasn't changed him, Joey Crack started off with a short sampling of his street anthem "My Lifestyle," before taking a break to dance to the sounds of R. Kelly's "Feelin' on Yo Booty." The Kelly-featured "We Thuggin' " followed, but the Bronx Don's penultimate moment had to be his performance of "What's Luv?"
The track's co-star, Ashanti, didn't come out with him, and frankly he didn't need her. The women in the audience picked up the slack, singing Ashanti's part so loud at times they almost drowned out the beat ("Gonna cut you no slack/ 'Cause I'm on it like that/ Come ooonnn and put it ooonnn me").
And as amped as everyone was for Joe, the show didn't really start until the families took to the stage. Murder Inc., Bad Boy and Roc-A-Fella, according to Ja Rule and Irv Gotti, all almost went out together on tour this summer, and what an outing it would have been. It was a friendly competition, and you could tell that each franchise wanted to shine brightest. Ja upped the ante, calling the Murderers "the most talented record label." And for a little over 30 minutes, he put his money where his mouth was, rolling out hit after hit.
"Livin' It Up" preceded such monsters as "Between Me and You" and "Put It on Me," for which Vita joined him. Charli Baltimore came out for "Down Ass Chick" and Caddillac Tah brought his gruff vocals for "Ain't It Funny." Ja's best-received guest star, however, was Ashanti, who sang "Foolish" and "Unfoolish."
Murder Inc. tried to make it difficult for anyone to follow; they were festive and had a lot to celebrate. They just found out Ashanti had the #1 album in the country. "She sold more records than any other R&B bitch in history their first week," Ja said.
P.D., who knows a thing or two about blockbuster first-week sales, broke the show's momentum by bringing things to a halt for about 15 minutes while he made sure everything was straight for his crowd-rocking.
Once everything was up to par, it was evident off the bat that old Sean John was not messing around. He brought the feel of a Broadway musical with lights, a bevy of beautiful dancers and backup singers. A video montage of Diddy's greatest moments played on a giant screen that hung above the stage before Diddy commenced rhyming with "Victory." Surprise guest Mr. Cheeks did the LB Slide, swaggering onstage to perform his "Lights, Camera, Action!" before he and Diddy rapped the remix.
From Broadway to the strip club: With Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" playing in the background, Diddy gyrated, did the Pepper Seed and the played out Pee-Wee Herman dances, bringing some dramatics to a ceremonious taking off of his leather jacket.
Once he was comfortable, Diddy kept his promise of delivering hits all night, and brought out G. Dep, Keith Murray and Craig Mack for the "Special Delivery" remix. Peep the pattern here now because remixes were a focal point for the majority of his set's remainder.
"Don't this hit make my people wanna jump, jump!" Busta Rhymes said, igniting the onlookers seconds after he was introduced for "Pass the Courvoisier Part 2," which preceded "I Need a Girl Part 1."
The finale was an absorbing rendition of "I'll Be Missing You." Some people were brought to tears, as a video montage of Notorious B.I.G., Big Pun, Aaliyah, Freaky Tah and Eazy played on the screen and a larger-than-life mural of Biggie on a white sheet appeared in the background. Diddy and the crowd clapped not just for the deceased stars, not just for everyone who's succumbed to AIDS, but for all the people we've cherished and lost.
That perhaps would have been the best ending, because although Jay-Z brought out most of his Roc-A-Fella crew, their performance didn't have the presence of Diddy's.
Cam'ron seemed a little despondent performing "Oh Boy." He joined Jay, who had already performed "You, Me, Him and Her" with Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek while Damon Dash danced. Jay's recruits followed with "Just Fire," then Jigga went the solo route with "Big Pimpin'." Surprisingly, Jay didn't close his own show with a song; he left that up to Freeway and Beanie Sigel, who delivered the musical adrenaline rush "Roc the Mic."
Read about all of the shows we've recently covered in Tour Reports.