Slick Rick w/ DJ Brucie B
Tuesday, July 12
Better than: Any other reunion, formal or not, that I’ve been to.
When I crossed the Cross Bronx Expressway and arrived outside the makeshift stage that was about to support two of hip-hop’s G.O.A.T.s, I realized I had arrived too late. No, neither Brucie B nor Slick Rick had begun performing, but for many at Crotona Park—those who looked like they were having the most fun—those performances would only serve to close a perfect summer evening of grilling, reminiscing with old friends and family, and maybe drinking a nutcracker or two on the side.
Brucie B’s DJ set fit perfectly into this laid-back, conciliatory atmosphere, as the mixtape pioneer cut tunes once passed around on cassette with those now available for download at DatPiff. The trans-generational mixing, combined with some good-natured prodding from his own DJ, even inspired Slick Rick to throw down the gauntlet. New school vs. old school is a battle that is all but obligatory at these sorts of shows, but last night it sounded almost fresh. After trumping Jim Jones’s “We Fly High” by taking it back to the rooftop era, the MC Ricky D, on his best behavior all evening, called it a draw before closing the show with his own “Children’s Story,” subtly but convincingly making the case for his generation after time had expired.
But let’s back it up. Rick came out, about forty minutes earlier, to (what else?) “The Ruler’s Back,” his band, comprised of a couple of guitars, a couple of horns, a couple of back-up singers and your standard DJ/drummer combination, sounding full and funky. Rick moved less than anyone on stage, and the hand below his massive wristwatch rarely left the pocket of his shorts. Although most of Rick’s brief set drew from The Great Adventures, the songs often departed from what had been recorded more than 21 years ago. “Hey Young World,” for instance, was reimagined with the band’s horns working around their new ska guitar line. If this was an attempt to throw the crowd off guard, it failed drastically, for when the rapper closed his mouth and turned the mic outward, he could always count on a sea of people to fill in the blanks.
One of the night’s more resonant moments, at least for me, came when Rick dropped his third of “Da Art of Storytellin'” in between 1988’s “Mona Lisa” and 1985’s “La Di Da Di.” “Nice, the new-school joint,” I thought, beginning to recall the hours I spent as a kid trying to learn Andre 3000 verses like the one absent but haunting this song. But before those memories could completely come together the trumpet pulled me back, and I realized that Outkast has now gone the way of The Get Fresh Crew, and that for more than I would like to believe, this too constitutes old school. I almost felt old, but if there’s ever a place to age gracefully, I think I might have found it.
Critical Bias: I’m not gonna tell you how many of these songs came out before I was born.
Overheard: Some hilarious ribbing by the friends of the dude who tried to keep the crowd warm after Rick finished his set.
Random Notebook Dump: I threw this in my notebook so that I would remember, but it’s probably worth getting the word out: Every Thursday this month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., a bunch of true old school figures (Red Alert, Kid Capri, maybe Grandmaster Caz, a few more) will be in Crotona Park jamming.
The Ruler’s Back
Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)
La Di Da Di
Hey Young World
The Moment I Feared
Lick the Balls
Old School vs. New School Battle
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2011