WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — You know it’s a party when Dave Chappelle is at the piano, playing and singing like he’s Stevie Wonder creating Songs in the Key of Life. The vibe was so right at the Key Club in Hollywood Tuesday night that anyone was bound to get onstage and perform whatever they wanted.
Erykah Badu, Common, Big Daddy Kane, Fall Out Boy, Cee-Lo and David Banner were just a few of the artists jumping onstage for the Roots’ annual jam session. The band started the yearly event — which always takes place around the Grammys — in 2003. This year they were working in conjunction with Chappelle as well as Don Cheadle’s Live for Darfur organization, created to raise awareness of the crisis in the Sudan.
With the incomparable hip-hop band backing them up, stars paraded onstage throughout the night and early morning like they were on a Jerry Lewis telethon. Badu came on to sing, and Big Daddy Kane (dressed impeccably in a white suit) stepped out and hit the crowd with a flurry of classics, including “Ain’t No Half Steppin’.”
Later Common took the stage for a mini set that featured “The Corners” and Talib Kweli followed with his own set, which included “Get By.” But the best part of the evening was when the MCs actually engaged in the lost art of freestyling off the top of the dome. (Rappers did used to do that, you know.)
He popped up backstage at the Fugees and Kanye West shows on Monday, and Bushwick Bill was popping off at the mouth like a b-boy at the Key Club on Tuesday. The little big man spoke from the top of his head before hitting the crowd with what is probably his most familiar verse. And the Roots continued to prove that when it comes to improv playing, they’ll always be masters.
“This year Halloween fell on the weekend/ Me and Geto Boys were trick or treating,” Bushwick rapped as the band played “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” “Robbing little kids for bags,” Bill continued, “till an old man got behind our ass.”
“Ah man, homie,” the crowd yelled at the end of the verse. “My mind’s playin’ tricks on me.”
Snoop Dogg, dressed to the nines in a suit and dress hat, came out later with a freestyle of his own: “I gets busy/ I make n—as’ heads dizzy/ I throw my hat in the crowd like a Frisbee.”
As Snoop rapped, Yo Yo jumped on stage and started dancing. Snoop then passed the mic to his West Coast home girl. “It’s Yo Yo/ Act like you know,” she began.
Later, Snoop and Yo Yo engaged in a little back-and-forth rapping.
“You can’t play with my Yo Yo,” Snoop said.
“Don’t try to play me out/ Don’t try to play me out,” she fired back.
The jam session went from hip-hop to R&B as Ne-Yo came out to sing his track “So Sick.” And what a motley crew the new singer had watching him. Dave Chappelle, Bushwick Bill and a smoking Snoop Dogg all camped out at the side of the stage as Ne-Yo performed. The music started sounding so good to Bushwick Bill that the rapper moved to center stage and started dancing.
“Go Bushwick, go Bushwick,” Ne-Yo and the crowd started chanting.
By 2 a.m., Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump was performing Prince’s “Kiss,” and it didn’t seem like the music was anywhere near stopping. The band said it was going to play for at least five hours. And as the night continued and people began to leave, it appeared that just as many folks were still filing in.
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