NEW YORK — There might never have been an Anger Management 3, a Rock the Mic or even a Survival of the Illest Tour if it weren't for Fresh Fest.
Some 21 years ago, Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow, Whodini and the Fat Boys were among the groups participating in the trek, which was the first hip-hop road show to gross heavy box-office numbers.
On Friday night, the Fresh Fest returned with a lineup of hip-hop legends ready to resuscitate the tour, armed with a catalog of timeless music from the '80s and early '90s.
"We'd be able to go on the road, do four nights a week — sometimes five — for three to four months straight," Jalil Hutchins of Whodini said Friday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom. "[We'd] pull up in your town, hit the hotel, go do some radio, go do a soundcheck, come back, eat, do the show, go to the afterparty. [We'd hook up with] a couple of chicks, and then hit the road and come back and do that again and again and again. Now I do one show, kiss a chick and I'm through."
Whodini, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, Dana Dane, Biz Markie, Nice & Smooth, Chubb Rock and former members of the Sugar Hill Gang all took the stage for the kick off of what promoters say will be a 20-city tour.
"I think the world has gotten nostalgic," Slick Rick said. "Hip-hop is pushing 40, but the older generation is not being catered to at all. We're hoping that we can open up a market that can push for this older, mature hip-hop tip."
"There's definitely an audience that wants to hear it," Big Daddy Kane said. "I think what's more important is the support. As long as radio is supporting it and making it seem like the big event it is — but if they trying to pass it off like it's some old-school show, and categorize cats and plant in the young generation's mind that 'That's the past,' [it's not cool]. But if radio and media support it, and instill in the younger generation that's this is where it comes from and this what you need to keep it alive, then it can be effective."
As it turns out, Kane was one of the show's main headliners, but he left a little before his showtime because of a dispute with the show's promoter over payment. A spokesperson for the promoter, Blackberry Entertainment, said the company did not have the full cash payment that had been agreed upon with Kane on hand, and the rapper refused to accept a check. Kane could not be reached for comment at press time.
Despite a lackluster turnout (the house was approximately one-third full), show-openers Nice & Smooth brought the energy like they were playing in a sold-out stadium. Their set was highlighted by Gregg Nice's spastic dances (he wore a T-shirt that said, "Rehab is for quitters") and outbursts like "Whop-bababloo-bop-a-bop-bambu." For "How to Flow," Nice got his Farnsworth Bentley on, dancing with an umbrella and yelling, "Make it rain, brother!" Smooth Bee might have had the stage prop of the night though: a guitar, which he pretended to play for "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow."
The prize for surprise guest of the night went to the Bronx duo: They didn't have Guru on hand when they performed "Dwyck," their collab with Gang Starr, but they did have Joeski Love come out to perform his 1986 hit, "Pee Wee's Dance."
After Chubb Rock delivered a brief set, Dana Dane entered the stage for hits like "Nightmare" and "Delancey Street." He too had a couple of tricks up his sleeve, bringing out Kwame for "The Rhythm" and D-Nice for "Call Me D-Nice."
Whodini might have been the night's show stealers, handling their business with showmanship like it was '88 all over again. The group was actually the first rap act to have dancers for their performance. "At that time it was costly to bring dancers on the road with you," Jalil explained earlier in the night. "We kept it because we felt hip-hop was rapping, scratching and dancing. We used to slay a lot of crews with that. Then we turned around one day and everybody in the game had dancers. It was crazy."
Back in the day, Whodini were also known for pulling disappearing magic tricks during their concerts (á la Harry Houdini), driving mopeds onstage and holding their DJ up in the air while he scratched records. The group members didn't pull those tricks out of their bag, but they kept the small crowd moving with records like "Freaks Come Out at Night" and "One Love."
Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh closed out the concert, with Doug starting out with Lil' Vicious for "Freaks." Slick Rick made his grand entrance for "The Show," and then took a break from performing to take off his platinum jewels and throw on his gold chains and Kangol. Slick, who has slimmed down considerably, looked almost like he did back in the day while hitting the audience with "Children's Story."
"It was good, you know," Slick said after the show outside the Hammerstein. Nick Cannon, who could be spotted in the venue all night dancing and rapping along with the records, pulled up to the Ruler and shook his hand. Busta Rhymes, Jin and Redman were also in the audience.
"[It was] old-school cats just having fun, people reminiscing the good old days, good vibes. The crowd likes to see the two of us doing our thing," he added about himself and Doug E's headlining stint. "It's always magic."
Promoters for Fresh Fest say they have a 20-city tour planned with the lineup that hit the Hammerstein on Friday, but have not yet released any more dates.