NEW YORK -- Prince Paul's hip-hop concept album A Prince Among
Thieves may be new, but the feelings behind it -- and many of the performers
who appear on it -- are distinctly old.
"Everyone's into the jiggy movement, but I like the original ... old-school
stuff," Prince Paul said from the stage of Tramps Tuesday night, where he
brought together many of the same performers, including Big Daddy Kane and
Special Ed, for an old-school party. "There's tons of artists who are dope but
aren't selling many records," he said.
A highlight of the evening was a reunion of Stetsasonic, the pioneering live rap
band with whom Prince Paul (born Paul Huston) first came to prominence in the
Fans in the packed club repeatedly were told that rap innovators De La Soul,
whose first three albums Prince Paul co-produced and who appear on A Prince
Among Thieves, were "in the house," but the group never performed.
"That was a teaser," Bill Blast, a 26-year-old fan from Syracuse, N.Y., said. "I
thought they were coming out."
Although the show was part of a tour promoting A Prince Among Thieves,
Prince Paul himself didn't arrive onstage until around 1:15 a.m., three hours
after it started.
He took his place behind the turntables while one by one his fellow members of
Stetsasonic joined him: human beatbox Leonard "Wise" Roman, drummer Marvin "DBC"
Nemley, and MCs Martin "Delite" Wright, Glenn "Daddy-O" Bolton and Bobby
Stetsasonic, who were joined onstage by a bassist identified only as Shindig,
released their first album, On Fire, in 1986. They broke up after
releasing Blood Sweat & No Tears (1991).
"It's been 15 years since we started," MC Delite shouted as the band launched
into a free-flowing groove. The group's sound was remarkably contemporary, with
the combination of the live rhythm section and Paul's turntable work meshing
tightly to create beats as fat as any in current hip-hop.
Stetsasonic played their hit "Talkin' All That Jazz," and followed with "Sally"
and "Go Brooklyn 3." Fruitkwon was a particularly striking presence, displaying
an unhinged onstage persona that suggested he may have been a precursor to the
Wu-Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard.
After Stetsasonic's set, Fruitkwon stayed onstage and was joined by the fellow
members of a later Prince Paul project, the "horror-core" rap act the
Gravediggaz. Backed by the Stetsasonic rhythm section, the Gravediggaz played
several songs and did some freestyling, until Prince Paul called the evening to
a close shortly after 2 a.m., informing the audience he had to get up in the
morning to take his daughter to school.
The show started at 10:15 p.m. with a performance of the A Prince Among
Thieves track "MC Hustler" by Horror City.
Between sets, the show's host, Prince Paul's cohort Newkirk, repeatedly touted
A Prince Among Thieves, which Prince Paul described in November as "a
soundtrack that's a movie within itself." The album tells the darkly humorous
tale of a battle between good and evil as embodied by two fictional rappers
portrayed by up-and-coming MCs Breeze and Sha.
Sha, who is a member of Horror City, played a brief set with Breeze, including
such key songs from the album as "Pain,"
(RealAudio excerpt) a track from the story's beginning and "You Got Shot," (RealAudio excerpt) a song from the end. They captured the spirit of A Prince Among Thieves when Breeze, who plays the hero, had one side of the crowd shout "life," while Sha, who plays the villain, had the other side shout "murder."
Special Ed, wearing a black nylon warm-up jacket, played a brief set, nimbly
rapping his way through the absurdist braggadocio of vintage tracks including
"I'm Special Ed" and "I Got It Made."
Charismatic rapper Big Daddy Kane (born Antonio Hardy), who played just before
Stetsasonic, stalked the stage in a black mesh skullcap and black leather
jacket, which he shed to reveal a shiny white silk shirt. He started off with
(RealAudio excerpt) from A Prince Among Thieves, a song in which he assumes the persona of a pimp.
With his delivery as jaw-droppingly rapid as ever, Big Daddy Kane was a clear
crowd favorite. As he pushed his booming baritone through a medley of older hits
including "Raw," bouncing fans shook the club's floor.
"Kane hasn't lost much over the years," Idriss Clymer, 19, from Yonkers, N.Y.,
Big Daddy Kane saluted the many hip-hop luminaries at the show, bringing DJs
Kool Herc and Red Alert and Whodini's Grandmaster D (Drew Carter) to the stage,
though none of them performed.
He called Kool Herc "the brother who made it all possible," a compliment echoed
later by Prince Paul. "I wouldn't be a DJ if it wasn't for Kool Herc," Paul