Roc Raida Tribute
Thurday, October 22
The line outside B.B. King’s last night for the Roc Raida tribute–celebrating the beloved turntable king who died September 19–took up half an avenue block amid the glaring lights of the Times Square outlands. Some ticketholders waited almost an hour; those without did, too. “We couldn’t buy tickets online,” Shawn from Philadelphia told us. “So we just drove up to try our luck. Roc Raida was legendary, and this night looks insane.” And it was.
The two-tiered venue was packed by 10:30 with a who’s-who of the New York hip-hop community. We spotted DJ Scratch, DJ Riz, Sizzahandz, Stretch Armstrong, and A-Trak lounging by the bar as an incredible number of dudes in NY fitted caps and backpacks milled about. (Finding a girl in the crowd was a “Where’s Waldo” endeavor.) Videos of Roc routines played on either side of the red-curtained stage, where three sets of turntables loomed. DJ Spin One held the crowd over with classic hip-hop jams–“I don’t smoke crack” solicited the group reply “I smoke MCs!”–but most revelers were mesmerized by the videos: footage of Roc scratching, mixing with his back to the turntables, and spinning without missing a beat brought on the emotions early. The footage of the beloved DJ teaching his six-year old daughter how to spin almost did me in.
None too soon, the “show” began, with Lord Sear on the mic and a mind-blowing lineup of DJs rotating on the turntables. A-Trak, DJ Supreme, and DJ Precision played a fast-paced, scratch-heavy (well, obviously) mix, followed by a quick set from Raida’s X-Men co-conspirators Total Eclipse and Rob Swift–“Throw your X’s up!” bellowed Lord Sear–as the crowd looked on in awe, hands in the air.
The music only stopped a few times to show personal video messages from Raida’s friends who couldn’t make it. Jazzy Jeff cited Roc as a teacher and inspiration. Kool Herc also shared his memories: “He is a hero in this culture we call hip-hop.” But the most emotional moment of the night came when Nyra, Raida’s middle-child daughter, was introduced to the audience live onstage. “She promised her father she’d be a DJ, and I’m gonna let her tell you what her DJ name is” the MC declared. “Ny Raida,” responded the 12-year-old girl, to a roar of applause (and tears from those onstage). She went on to present DJ Supreme with the Gong Battle trophy he’d won shortly before Raida’s death.
The night went on. Z-Trip played a mix of hits ranging from De La Soul to Led Zeppelin, all the while sneaking in Roc-centric moments like the famed “You are dubbed Grandmaster Roc Raida” clip, both B.B. Kings security and the mob of photographers onstage suddenly less concerned with their duties as they stared in amazement at the DJ’s hands.
DJ Scratch followed with a show typical to his style, filled with elaborate body tricks and a bit of playful attitude. He opened with the Roc-affiliated “Funky Pianos”–“This was one of his first productions,” Scratch explained. Later, he did his signature routine: hiding behind the turntables and coming up with the Friday the 13th Jason mask on, all the while cutting “Like Friday the 13th, I’mma play Jason” from Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin’,” immediately followed by him literally picking up his turntables during the famous “Pick it up/Pick it up/ Pick it up” line from Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours.” The night officially ended with the Beat Junkies‘ J Rocc, DJ Babu, and Rhettmatic taking over all three decks.
All said, it was an understandably emotional night and a tribute fitting to such a legend. Backstage was a buzz of DJs hugging DJs and ol’ head photographers sharing memories of “the last time I took photos at an X-Men show”; even the security guys got into it. “When I saw Boogie Blind, I almost cried” admitted a bouncer standing next to me. The four hours flew by, with some combination of amazement and embarrassment taking over–it tends to happen when in the presence of such talent. Thing is, you could see that everyone felt that way, even those who performed. And the tears were accompanied by smiles, laughter, and an intense feeling of unity. “We drove up from Baltimore with plans to go out in NYC tonight,” one DJ told me. “But now I can’t, I need to go home and watch Raida videos or something.”