NEW YORK At Lincoln Center’s storied Avery Fisher Hall Thursday
night, you could tell it was no ordinary night. Amidst the Coogie sweaters
and matching fitted caps, throwback sports jerseys, assorted hoodies and
Timberland boots worn by the concertgoers, you couldn’t spot any of the
aristocrats in furs, suits and evening gowns that usually frequent the home
of the New York Philharmonic.
And while ticketholders for the sold-out show were ready to hear crisp
sounds, the night was all about hip-hop. The Roots Black Thought,
Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, Scratch, Kamal, Malik B., Rahzel and Hub
called on such friends as Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Kool G Rap and legendary
breakdancers the Rock Steady Crew to help introduce the venue to rap.
Although DJing squad the X-ecutioners performed at Avery Fisher in 2000, no
MCs had ever graced the theater (Click for photos from the concert).
The house lights went low, signaling the crowd to rise from their seats for
Philadelphia’s hometown heroes’ entrance.
"We settin' it from Southside/ Pushin' this up North/ From Illadelphian reps,
to fly points across the map," the group’s frontman and lead MC, Black
Thought, said as they opened with "Respond/ React."
With the house still pitch black, he and the Roots' other MC, Malik B.,
continued rhyming until the next couple of verses, then as the full crew was
revealed onstage, the band switched up the beats, using Mobb Deep’s "The
Learning (Burn)" as the musical backdrop.
"We surround your camp/ Assuming the war stance," Thought spit. "And bring it
from the chest, now let's dance."
He and Malik then conjured visions of '80s rap world flick "Beat Street" as
they battled each other, not with mics, but by dancing, highlighted by
backspins, reminiscent of World Wrestling Federation Superstar Booker T.’s
Spinnerooni signature move. From there, guests Crazy Legs and two other Rock
Steady Crew dancers took over with their trademark poppin', lockin' and
At that point, the floor seating area looked like one massive sea of bodies.
Everybody was standing, and from the balcony you couldn’t see chairs or a
piece of the floor, just people dancing.
"We got the hot, hot music, the hot music," Black Thought began to chant on
the follow-up number, "The Next Movement." But after a verse, the band
switched up the beat again, this time recreating the keys that producer
Marley scored big with on the seminal posse cut "The Symphony."
"Next up," said Thought. " ... Kool G Rap light up the mic for the symphony."
The legendary verbal pugilist then came on to rehash his lyrical lacerations.
"Yo, Marley gives the slice, I get nice/ And my voice is twice as horrifying
as Vincent Price," G Rap said, clad in all black from his Timbs to his
The back-in-the-day vibe must have gotten to Black Thought when G Rap
finished his verse, Thought went into Big Daddy Kane’s part of the song.
"Settin' it off, lettin' it off, beginnin'," he said. "Rough to the endin',
you never been in ..."
G Rap wasn’t the last person the Roots would give time to shine to on the mic
Talib Kweli, singer Jaguar Wright and Jay-Z would also come out.
Jay and the group took the opportunity to perform some of Jigga’s
street-flavored album cuts they didn’t have time for on the recent MTV
"Unplugged." Jigga started off with "A Million and One Questions" (one of
?uestlove’s favorites) and then went into "So Ghetto."
His set’s closer was "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)." "Ain’t no love, in
the heart of the city," Jaguar returned to the stage to sing. "Ain’t no love,
in the heart of town."
"Ain’t no," Jay chimed in, smiling.
With the crowd clapping in unison, Jag roared back, "Ain’t nooo."
"Ain’t no," Jay jumped back in, before rubbing the visibly pregnant
songbird’s bulging stomach.
The crowd was alerted that even though the show was hitting the 90-minute
mark at that point, it was not time to go home yet. It was jam session time,
and the band performed instrumentals ranging from "Iron Man" to
Salt-N-Pepa’s "Push It," but not before their most commercially popular
hit, "You Got Me."
Although the track’s guest performer, Erykah Badu, wasn’t in attendance,
human-sound-effects machine Rahzel imitated her part.
Rahz and Scratch, who replicated much of the turntable scratching with his
mouth on the "Unplugged" special, then went toe-to-toe for the crown of Mouth
o’ Mighty. Using just their mics, the two dug deep enough in their bag of
tricks to make Michael Winslow from "Police Academy" proud.
Besides recreating the beat and hook from Aaliyah’s "If Your Girl Only Knew,"
the highlight of their time in the spotlight was a performance of the Luke
Skywalker and Darth Vader light saber fight, replete with the weapons’
buzzing noise and Darth Vader’s revelation that he was Luke’s father.
The grand finale of Pharoahe Monch coming out to perform "Simon Sez" was
almost an afterthought. The song’s chorus chant of "Get the f--- up" was two
hours too late; all seats were ice cold by then.