Wyclef, Ras Kass Pop In On Lyricist Lounge Tour

Traveling rap exhibit features surprise, superstar guests and hip-hop vets De La Soul supporting new artists.

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the event's founder, Danny Castro, so boldly

stated Wednesday night, "You never know what will happen at a Lyricist

Lounge show."

What's most surprising about the remark is that Castro likely didn't even

know at the time that the Lounge's Bay Area showcase would draw the likes of

Fugees superstar Wyclef Jean and hardcore rapper Ras Kass -- both onstage

and in person.

Castro, a co-founder of the touring rap showcase that's based in New York,

made his pronouncement at the beginning of the latest edition of Lyricist

Lounge,

which was held at the 2,000-capacity Maritime Hall. While Castro was

referring to an accomplished freestyle rap that had just been performed by

Top Ramen of the Earthlings, his comments seemed prophetic considering

Wyclef's and Ras Kass' appearances.

"I love this," Wyclef explained during up-and-comers Black Eyed Peas'

lively rendition of "Que Deces." "This is what it's all about for me, this

is my background. This is what [my group] the Fugees are all about."

In addition to special performances by Wyclef and Ras Kass, the night's

lyrical lineup boasted hip-hop innovators De La Soul and underground

sensations Eminem, Infamous Syndicate, Last Emperor and Rah Sun.

The sold-out show was the fifth stop of the 12-date tour, which is based on

the

9-year-old Lyricist Lounge showcase that features well-known rappers

introducing up-and-coming hip-hop acts. The showcase, normally held at

clubs around New York City, has developed a reputation as a place to go to

hear non-commercial hip-hop and to catch rappers on the verge of breaking

through.

While the event's hosts have included such big-name acts as Q-Tip, the

Goodie Mob, Sean "Puffy" Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy) and KRS-One, the Lounge

introduced Foxy Brown, the late Notorious B.I.G., Big Punisher and others

before they scored their first hit recordings.

The show started off with a group of Bay Area rappers who were allotted

three minutes each to rhyme over a beat supplied by De La Soul member

Maseo.

"It's just great to see so many people out here supporting hip-hop," said

Bay Area rapper Top Ramen, who declined to give his full name and age,

after his performance. "The reaction was great and it just goes to show we

don't need dancers and s--- to put on a good show."

New York rapper Last Emperor earned a strong crowd reaction for a song

that turned rap stars such as KRS-One and the Wu-Tang Clan into

superheroes. He was followed by another lively performer, Eminem, whose

forthcoming Slim Shady album was produced by Dr. Dre.

"Eminem was off the hook," show-goer Susan Niles, 15, said. "I'm surprised

that so many people are into him. I mean, his album isn't even out yet."

With the crowd pumped following Eminem's performance of such songs as

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Eminem/My_Name_Is.ram">"My

Name Is" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Just Don't Give A F---," the time

seemed right for celebrated lyricist and native Northern Californian Ras

Kass to

make a surprise appearance.

Accompanied by two sidekicks, Ras Kass stalked the stage like a sergeant

lecturing his troops and rapped through songs from Soul On Ice, his

first album, and his part from fellow rapper Xzibit's "Three Card Molly."

Having the unenviable task of following Ras Kass, the little-known rap

groups Rah Sun and Infamous Syndicate held up nicely in spite of sound

problems. It also should be noted that in an evening full of references to

former White House intern Monica Lewinsky -- whose sexual liaison with

President Clinton has caused talk of impeachment -- rough-edged rappers Rah

Sun earned the loudest cheer with the lyrics "I'm not Bill Clinton/ I just

crush a

lot."

De La Soul, who had been introducing some of the various acts, were up next.

They were clearly a crowd favorite as they rolled through such songs as

"Ego Trip," "It's So Easy" and "Buddy," along with a version of their

"Jennifer," which recast the song to the tune of U.T.F.O.'s crucial rap

hit "Roxanne Roxanne."

Black

Eyed Peas frontman Will I Am said he counted De La Soul among his "musical heroes."

Onstage Wednesday night, Maseo reciprocated by praising Black Eyed

Peas' bohemian rap and adding that he was "tired of ducking bullets on the

radio."

That mutual-admiration society remained onstage for the start of Black Eyed

Peas' set, as De La Soul's "Pass the Peas" segued into the Peas' "The

Movement." Meanwhile, Wyclef Jean and his Fugees comrade Pras poked their

heads out the backstage door for the first time to see the action onstage.

"I just wanted to come out after the [MTV] Video Music Awards and show that

I'm still down with hip-hop," Wyclef said of his appearance at the Maritime

Hall. "This is where it's at for me."

Following the Black Eyed Peas performance, Wyclef took to the stage to

engage in a friendly lyrical battle with Will I Am as the Peas' band played

behind them. Though Wyclef and Pras had been hanging out near the backstage

door for the Peas' entire performance, the majority of the audience saw the

duo for the first time when the two took to the stage.

Wyclef and Will I Am then closed the show with some more playful verbal

sparring, with Wyclef incorporating the self-referential "What's 'Clef got

to do with it" portion of "Retaliation," his answer song to rapper LL Cool

J's musical putdown, "The Ripper Strikes Back."

"That was the tightest show I've seen in a long time," 24-year-old hip-hop

fan Mark McGowan said. "But then Wyclef and Pras got up there, and I was

like, 'I am in hip-hop heaven!' "

Lyricist Lounge Tour's Remaining Dates:

Sept. 20; Washington, D.C., 9:30 Club (Host: Buck Shot; Headliner: KRS-One)

Sept. 24; Miami, Fla., Liquid (Host: De La Soul; Headliner: Black Star)

Sept. 25; Boston, Mass., Avalon (Host: De La Soul; Headliner: Black Star)

Sept. 26; Philadelphia, Pa., Electric Factory (Host: De La Soul; Headliner:

KRS-One)

Oct. 1; Detroit, Mich., State Theatre (Host: Common; Performers: Big Pun

and Queen Pen)

Oct. 3; Atlanta, Ga., Roxy (To Be Announced)