With 30 acts to cram into one night and at least one plane that needed catching, Friday's Rhymesayers 20 concert started on time and ran like clockwork — which is just one of many ways it was unlike any hip-hop show Target Center has seen before.
The first major concert at the Minneapolis arena by a locally reared entity since Prince in 2007, the six-hour marathon kicked off with a short set by one of the Rhymesayers record label's best-known hometown rappers, P.O.S. His 5:30 p.m. slot wasn't just a ploy to get the 10,000-plus fans to show up early.
"I need to take a rocket ship to the airport after this," said the real-life Stef Alexander, who had to get to Chicago to play another gig with his Doomtree crew. P.O.S.' heavy hustle set the tone for the entire performance, which featured many of the acts that have recorded for Rhymesayers.
You could have timed a pizza in the oven to Friday's early sets by local mainstays such as Toki Wright and Los Nativos alongside Seattle duos Boom Bap Project and Grayskul. They delivered four or five songs apiece and were barely offstage before the next one came on. It probably took Los Nativos' Aztec dancers longer to put on their ornate costumes than it did to perform in them.
It didn't take long for things to get topical — another way the show differed from most mainstream hip-hop shows.
"Put some cameras on those cops!" Wright, a north Minneapolis resident, yelled a half-hour into the concert, just the first to bring up the Jamar Clark shooting and Fourth Precinct station protests.
A few sets later, local rap pioneer I Self Devine — introduced by Rhymesayers star Brother Ali as "one of the inspirations and reasons we're here" — made a passionate endorsement of "the courageous people who took over a police station." The most emotional speech came toward the end of the night from Ali, whose voice cracked as he delivered a fiery new spoken-word piece, "Dear Black Son," about his own son.
Whether reflecting the dire news of late or just the first doldrums of winter, fans seemed to relish blowing off some steam Friday. Atmosphere rapper Slug, co-founder and face of Rhymesayers, egged on the crowd during his first appearance in the heavy-metal-infused DJ set by Mr. Dibbs.
"It's been a hard year, so go ahead and push yourselves around a little bit," Slug told fans, who bounced in bursts and raised their hands in waves on the arena floor.
The rowdiness jumped twofold when a party store's worth of inflatable animals was tossed into the crowd for hometown bad-bad-boy Prof's set. DJ Abilities had bodies moving but hearts flittering when he spiked his breakneck turntablist set with vocals by his late bandmate and childhood friend Eyedea.
Women were scarce on stage, but those who did perform stood out for more reasons than their gender. New York's Kimya Dawson pulled out the night's only acoustic guitar to deliver the clever folk/rap hybrid "Delicate Cycle" with her Uncluded bandmate Aesop Rock. Brother Ali paired up with a women's dance troupe, S.H.E., for a lively old-school blend of rapping and break dancing.
Atmosphere also went into throwback mode, starting out the finale with its breakthrough 1997 single "Scapegoat," and with prodigal ex-MC Spawn briefly in tow. Slug humorously chastised the crowd for singing along too loudly to the later hit, "Girl With the Tattooed Hands," but he seriously seemed humbled by the setting.
"It ain't just my friends that came tonight," the rarely braggadocious rapper (Sean Daley) understatedly pointed out. And now, he can brag of being a bona fide arena act.