Freestyle Fellowship's Return Heats Up The Whisky

After a five-year hiatus, poetic, jazz-influenced rap ensemble is back with sold-out show.

LOS ANGELES -- The crowd that jammed the sidewalk outside the Whisky a Go Go on Thursday night would make a good advertisement for multicultural Los Angeles.

"It's nice to see such a diverse crowd," said Rochelle, 21, a pretty blonde from Venice Beach.

Fans of all ages and colors were milling around, looking vainly for tickets to a sold-out show by the boundary-breaking, jazz-influenced rap group Freestyle Fellowship, who call Los Angeles home.

Inside the Whisky, the crowd was packed together like cargo-class passengers on the ill-fated Titanic. It was a day of record-breaking heat, and it only got hotter in the club. There was no room to sit or even lean, but it was hot enough for you to break a sweat just by standing still.

Up on stage, the FF -- Mikah Nine, Self-Jupiter, Aceyalone and Peace -- were as tight as the accommodations. You'd never realize that the four MCs had been working on separate projects for the last five years. They've also been recording a new FF record, but on this night, they reveled in stomping through their classics, such as "Tolerate" and "Danger."

"I used to see them when they first got together, 1989," said well-dressed disc jockey DJ Black, 29, of Los Angeles. "They're more cohesive now. They feed off each other. There's more unity."

The FF brought out a trumpet player who be-bopped with a freestyle reveille. Jazz samples underscored the rappers' smart lyrics and verbal improvisation -- poetic and complex.

Aceyalone sang, "This microphone ... is my weapon." He drew the audience into new songs, including the mellow "The Sun Took A Day Off and The Moon Stood Still."

Despite a state law against smoking in nightclubs, the air hung heavy with the scent of marijuana. The upstairs balcony was jammed solid and seemed to be an unofficial smoking lounge. A smoke machine at the back of the stage was turned on every once in a while, adding to the thick-as-fog atmosphere.

As the set went on, the audience on the floor appeared to have thinned out, but, actually, more and more people had managed to climb onto the stage with the FF. Many in the crowd were so exhausted from the show and the heat that about 70 of them sought a brief respite in the only open space -- the back stairs, where you couldn't see a thing.

But you could still hear.

The FF closed with "Innercity Boundaries" (I gotta be righteous, I gotta be me/ I gotta be conscious, I gotta be free/ I gotta be able, I gotta attack/ I gotta be stable, I gotta be black). The encore was an insistent "We Will Never Fall The Fuck Off We Promise" that got everyone onstage energized and even brought some life back to the sweaty, spent fans.

Earlier in the evening, the audience on the floor had grown restless. The FF, whose influence is clearly heard in the music of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, had brought along a whole entourage of performing friends.

And everyone got their turn to play before the FF went on after midnight.

Of all the supporting acts, Black Forest -- a DJ and seven MCs -- were most successful in getting the audience pumped. But the last two groups to hit the stage prior to the FF set didn't warm up the crowd as much as frustrate it.

Old Moon Tribe had a rock setup (guitar/drums/bass) that played thick metal riffs with hip-hop over the top. Rifleman's two MCs didn't have a DJ -- a tape played somewhere in the wings.

In the end, nothing mattered but the return of the Freestyle Fellowship.

It was a long, hot night, but it was one that FF fans awaited for half a decade.