Friday, November 27
Better Than: Byrd Gang, Skull Gang, Purple City, U.N., Dipset West
It seems a little silly, really, this Dipset revival. When times grew lean for the Cam’ron-led crew a few years back, the support staff–from Jones on down–convinced themselves that they didn’t need the brains of the operation anymore. This turned out not to be true, of course, and it took Cam’ron getting back with the old gang–right as he was enjoying a rebirth of sorts with new ally Vado–to make people care again. “Salute,” the first and, thus far, only track issued by the newly reconstituted crew, is noisy, fresh and kind of undeniable. New York rap doesn’t have much else going for it these days, so what the heck.
Tonight’s show is a sprawling and disorienting but ultimately glorious mess. It goes on for more than three hours, with no real lulls in the action (unless one counts the awkwardly timed and entirely unnecessary screening of Juelz Santana’s “Homerun” video with Lil Wayne). The whole squad gets their close-up, all the way down to second-stringers J.R. Writer and Hell Rell, who are given a 10-minute window to run through solo tracks only the most die-hard fans would claim to know. It begins, promptly and anti-climactically, at the posted starting time of 7:30, with Cam’ron, Jones, and Santana –and 40 Cal–running through lesser album tracks (“I’m Ready,” “Come Home With Me”), before ceding the stage to a bathrobe-clad Freekey Zekey, Hennessey bottle in hand, crew of female dancers in tow.
Jim Jones, clad in a jacket airbrushed “Crack Is Wack,” is the first to run through an extended set of solo material: “Summer Wit Miami,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” the recent “Blow Your Smoke.” After cameos from fellow Harlemites Black Rob and Ryan Leslie, the DJ teases “We Fly High,” but Jones disappears, replaced by an exuberant Juelz Santana. Santana is easily the most energetic of the Dipset’s big three tonight. An exchange between Santana and his little nephew, Ja–the kid from “S.A.N.T.A.N.A” and the “There It Go” video, now nearing puberty–is particularly amusing, the whippersnapper showing up his uncle in a staged Dougie battle.
But the night’s oddest moment comes, predictably, from Cam’ron, during a tribute to the late Harlem hip-hop fixture Huddy 6, who died in a car crash last month. Following a video montage set to Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven,” Cam brought out a whole church choir, pacing the stage, grimacing and gesturing toward the singers as if he was their conductor. We’re used to brutal indifference from this guy: it’s jarring and perversely amusing to see him in a state of solemn reverence. His set pulls mainly from Dipset-era material (Purple Haze‘s “Down,” Killa Season‘s “Wet Wipes”), avoiding his first two albums and last year’s Crime Pays, altogether. Vado provides some spark on “We All Up In Here” and “Speakin’ In Tungs” but also shows his inexperience: his vocals are slightly but noticeably out of sync with the pre-recorded ones he rhymes over.
The full crew reconvened for a second go-round, and at last, we finally got to hear the stuff we’d been waiting for: Cam-led hits “Oh Boy” (“Don’t fight on ‘Oh Boy,'” Cam scolds when a scuffle breaks out. “We got other songs you can fight to”) and “Hey Ma”; Jones’ “We Fly High”; “Dipset Anthem” and “I Really Mean It.” There’s been upwards of a few dozen hangers-on crowding the stage throughout the night but at this point, the number begins to balloon. By the time the show wraps with “Salute,” Hammerstein’s entire stage–54 feet wide and 24 feet deep–is spoken for. It looks as if all of Harlem could be up there on stage with them–a fitting climax for an entity that was always more about strength in numbers than quality control.
Critical Bias: Substantial. My sidekick for the evening dressed as Cam’ron, circa Purple Haze, for Halloween. Our friendship, though hardly superficial at this point, was formed over a shared appreciation for Cam (and a shared distaste for Drake.)
Overheard: “I didn’t know he was home.” [In reference to Freekey Zekey and, later, Black Rob]
Random Notebook Dump: I see lots of Rugby but not one “Cam*Jimmy*Freeky*Juelz” Ramones logo T-shirt. Harlem is in the building. Williamsburg, not so much.
Set List: Too lengthy to note here. The song count easily topped 50 (Or, more accurately, portions of 50 songs.)