NEW YORK — Sunday’s sixth annual Black August benefit began with two announcements: “We’re here in the quest for real hip-hop” and “put out the smoke.” There was no mention of how late the show would go.
The quest would include such guides as Boot Camp Clik, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu, but before the musically righteous roster got to lick shots and share new material, their “California comrade” Goapele took the Brooklyn Cafe stage. Delivering four songs to backpacks, dreadlocks and African flag sweatbands, she flew through harmonious ballads of disillusionment and Soweto revolution.
It was a fitting kickoff for the show, sponsored by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and dedicated to Sundiata Acoli and Assata Shakur, who were charged and convicted — many believe falsely — of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. Acoli is serving a life sentence, while Shakur has escaped and received political asylum in Cuba.
Bumrushing the stage with about 50 people, Boot Camp Clik incited a riot of sign-waving and raised fists. Jabbing the mic stand into swaying hands, BCC delivered on their reputation as Brooklyn’s finest, performing favorites like “Bucktown” from their mostly overlooked second album, The Chosen Few.
The crowd had no love for surprise performer Keith Murray, leading him to stop mid-song to remind the audience, “This song is called ‘Special Delivery.’ ” After wasting some party rhymes on the serious crowd, Keith resorted to pleasing the ladies with “Candi Bar” and chanting “Power to the people!” before descending the stage.
Dead Prez awakened the comatose hip-hop revolutionaries with selections from Turn Off the Radio: The Mixtape Volume 1. “We Need a Revolution” bled from the speakers before MCs M1 and Sticman yielded the stage to Fred Hampton Jr., son of slain revolutionary Fred Hampton.
“We got way too many cats in Sing Sing to be talking ’bout bling bling,” Hampton Jr. said. Then the MC highlighted the concert’s focus, saying that during the fateful May 1973 traffic stop in New Jersey, Shakur was shot in the back while her hands were in the air. Acknowledging shouts pierced the venue, fused with swirling African flags.
At 1 a.m. Black Star’s Talib Kweli made “a joyful noise unto the Lord, ’cause the pen is mightier than the sword.” Getting by on “Definition,” and with “Gun Music” drawing Smif ‘N’ Wessun from the VIP room, Kweli chided the crowd for tired responses to his calls. After testing out some new material, he appropriately asked if it was “too early to mourn, too late to rise” while telling everyone to move something.
Erykah Badu took the stage around 2:30 a.m. and rocked for almost an hour and a half. Smiling with her gold front teeth shining in the spotlight, Badu tickled her new favorite instrument, the drum machine, while lulling the remaining sparse crowd with “Didn’t Cha Know.” Sharing her Baduizm on moving black people forward, she declared that “love is the opposite of fear.”
After getting deep at 2:40 on a Monday morning, she sang “Other Side of the Game” and dedicated her horn-blowing new single, “Danger,” to Fred Hampton Jr. Ending with “Bag Lady” at almost 4 a.m., Black August was backpacker’s wonderland filled with free newspapers, smoke and dreams of revolution.
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