Chuck D at Thursday's Occupy Homes rally (photo by Steven Cohen)
Following Chuck D around town Thursday was vaguely reminiscent of covering Prince’s three-gig 7/7/07 marathon -- except the Public Enemy frontman was promoting rug-swept hip-hop pioneers and social justice, not perfume. Here’s a brief recap of the legendary rapper’s long day in Minneapolis, part of the three-week Hip-Hop Gods Tour:
HIP-HOP GODS PRESS CONFERENCE: “This is born out of how tours used to be in the ‘60s,” Chuck told a dozen or so reporters and photographers inside First Avenue’s Record Room on Thursday afternoon before soundcheck. He had almost as many musicians with him as there were journalists on hand, including Monie Love, Schoolly D, Dinco D (from Leaders of the New School), Wise Intelligent (of Poor Righteous Teachers), Awesome Dre and pioneering DJ/producer/bassist Davey DMX. Alas, no Flavor Flav, though. “There are 35 of us spread between two buses,” Chuck said with something of a pained look on his face.
Most of what the ringleader’s other statements echoed our interview with him leading up to the show about finding new ways to promote “classic” -- don’t call it “old-school” hip-hop. Monie Love added an extra level of importance to the effort, though. “Right now, our little girls are so lost,” she said, describing her own mission statement on the tour as “reintroducing” the idea that “they don’t have to be standing in a video with champagne pouring down their T-shirt to have a role in hip-hop.” On the other hand, Schoolly predictably lightened things up when he explained his goal at the shows: “I’m here to provide the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. People still need to have a m.f.-ing good time. That’s my m.f.-ing job.”
Toward the end, Chuck invited out Brother Ali -- who snuck in mid-conference -- to talk about what was coming next.
OCCUPY HOMES RALLY: It looked like a keg party as you approached, with several dozen people loitering outside a house near Phelps Park in south Minneapolis with cups in hand. There was a celebratory aspect to the dinnertime event, too, as the house in question was one whose owner actually returned from the brink of foreclosure with the help of the Occupy Homes Minnesota activists/volunteers. Brother Ali and his special guest showed up to continue raising awareness for the ousted home owners who haven’t been so lucky.
“I grew up in the era of R&B,” Chuck told the crowd through a bullhorn on the home’s front steps. “That’s Reagan and Bush,” he added to laughs, going on to talk about seeing “boarded up cribs when so many people were living on the streets” in his childhood hometown of Roosevelt, New York (on Long Island). It pains him to see that happening again. Talking specifically of the financial blunders behind a lot of today’s foreclosures, he said, “Never have so many been screwed by so few.”
Mutual admirers for a couple years now -- Chuck guested on Ali’s last record, and Ali is on a new PE track -- the two rappers went around thanking and hugging attendees but did not treat them to any kind of performance. That would come much later that night.
HIP-HOP GODS CONCERT: “Give it up for your own hip-hop gods,” Chuck yelled to the crowd as both Brother Ali and Slug of Atmosphere came to the stage near the end of Thursday night’s nearly five-hour show at a full-capacity First Avenue. The two Minneapolis rappers did the scene proud freestyling while Chuck’s usual hype man, Flavor Flav, sat behind a drum kit and pounded out the beat to the 1987 Public Enemy classic “Timebomb.” In short: Something you don’t see every day.
As Chuck promised, the entire concert was far from ordinary -- at least in modern hip-hop terms. His all-star team rapidly took turns at the plate, starting with Awesome Dre and Son of Bazerk and culminating with X-Clan’s Brother J and Dinco D before the PE finale. Chuck introduced each act, and made all of them tell the crowd their Twitter handle, website, etc. It was maybe the most professionally minded tour in hip-hop history. Highlights among the performances included Schoolly D’s raunchy and rowdy set -- sorry Chuck, but you have to call that stuff “old-school,” in the best possible way -- along with Wise Intelligent’s truly dazzling display of rhyme skills.
As if hearing Monie Love deliver “Ladies First” isn’t enough of a memorable experience, she also talked about how much performing in Minneapolis meant to her. For starters, she fondly remembered the three weeks she spent with Prince at Paisley Park writing lyrics for his then-girlfriend Carmen Electra’s 1993 rap album (“What are you laughing at? It was a check,” she deadpanned to the crowd). Then, she graciously used up a chunk of her set time to let budding local rap star MaLLy deliver his aptly named gem, “Shine” (word from MaLLy afterward was that she discovered him via Twitter).
PE didn’t take the stage until well after midnight, and well after the show started to feel like it was dragging on. It continued to plod along, too, as Flavor Flav goofed around for several minutes following a fiery “Rebel Without a Pause” at the start of the set. Momentum picked back up with “Welcome to the Terrordome” and then dwindled again. Things finally got on track permanently with “Bring the Noise,” which was followed with a visceral montage of “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Can’t Truss It,” “He Got Game,” the monstrous new single “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “Shut Em Down,” “By the Time I Get to Arizona” and finally “Fight the Power.” As the clock neared 2 a.m., the “classic”-aged crowd looked too tired to fight much, but it was a powerful finish nonetheless.