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Angie Martinez’s Backyard BBQ
The Garden At Studio Square
Saturday, August 18
Better than: Getting lost coming home from Queens.
CBS sitcoms, Tom Wolfe and Republicans alike have all painted New York City as a noisy, grimy nightmare, a melting pot of sex and kvetching, guns and soupy hot dogs, where steam rises like prices and trash falls like dreams. No place for families, a godless murderzone where the women are as fast as streets are clogged, where stress stains the ceilings and piss, the sidewalks. Bright lights lit by hellfire and Wall Street’s cigars. Millions of people—all strangers—passing one another, every face as hard as their concrete surroundings, a Darwinian experiment thrown to the rats.
It’s almost out of character for the city, then, that Angie Martinez’s BBQ on Saturday night was so low-key, so relaxed, a small-town block party held in often-overlooked Queens. Grids of dominos and games of spades played out among the trees and open sky; pitchers of sangria and lemonade held down the picnic tables. All that made the night distinctly New York were the names involved, a polka-dot collection of bold-faces: Questlove mixing VIC’s “Get Silly” into dead prez into “Dance (A$$)” onstage while Joe Budden, Fabolous, Sanaa Lathen and Gabrielle Union Instagrammed one another in VIP. A scruffy Miguel stepped over legs and under arms to get to the bar, as DJ Khaled engaged in flirt-fighting with his fiancée over a smoking cigarillo. We found love in a hopeless place.
Busta Rhymes showed up to hang out with friends. He wasn’t on the poster; he wasn’t on the set list (if there was one). And so, there he was, by the ice buckets, his hand on Bun B’s shoulder, sweat pocking the back of his massive head, his massive shoulders, and the small space that exists between. With two songs to go in Fabolous’ headlining set, Angie got on the microphone and called Busta to the stage; he grimaced, a bear shaking off hibernation. He kept talking. Def Jam’s Sean “Pecas” Costner—the night’s co-host—gestured for his attention, stogie in mouth, to no avail. Finally, with Bun’s blessing, Busta slowly made his way over, though first stopping to talk to Khaled, to Mavado. It took him ten minutes to walk twenty feet. He lumbered up the stairs, barreled onstage, and summarily tore it down, as if part of daily routine. (There’s no live performer as good as Busta, who throttles each syllable like a WWF wrestler, grabbing the air and throwing it to the ground.) His motor-mouthed “Look At Me Now” verse closed the night; he treated it like a parlor trick. He kissed Angie, posed for pictures, and then resumed conversation. Joe Budden, tasked with following Busta, basically declined. He did a shortened “Hammer Dance,” choosing conversation and store-bought pomegranate juice over the alternative.
The night started with DJ Khaled ad-libbing over his own songs (but other people’s lyrics) in italics and caps lock, yelling Chris Brown’s “Take it to the head!” through his nostrils as he does for “We the best!” A jiggly ball of neck and stomach, Khaled held his microphone out to the crowd, his energy contagious. He posed onstage, puffing out his chest and squeezing in his stomach, urging everyone to “Take your pictures now, and tag them with the hashtag #KissTheRing,” the name of his newest album. During Miguel’s set—an intense, honey-throated, muscular fifteen minutes—cardboard cutouts of Khaled emerged in the crowd, swaying to “Sure Thing,” a very strange sight indeed. Women threw their hands up and swayed as Angie introduced him; at least a couple of brolic dudes in bucket hats jumped onto the tables, excited. Miguel’s voice clawed at the air, his hips grinding and arms spreading wide to sell the line “Say that I’m the one, ’cause girl you’re a ten.”
Fabolous, a semi-surprise guest, assumed the role of headliner after Wale was forced to pull out of the performance. (The sudden death of his close friend, boxer Bo Akinyanju, took precedence.) Dressed in a shirt that resembled an A$AP Rocky mixtape cover, Fabolous opened with “Breathe,” his ace in the hole, following up with a bunch of minor-mixtape minor-bangers. The crowd was more excited than he was exciting, his chin aimed at the ground and his glasses dark. Red Café, usually a bummer, was a weirdly welcome appearance, his “I’m Ill” remix far more effective than Fab’s set surrounding it. So too was Mavado, who—when joined by Khaled—rasped through two songs while wearing a tank top that said, “Shit, this isn’t my toothbrush.”
With no more (willing) performers, the night finished, though the party continued. DJ Enuff ran through a playlist suited for a family cookout, while Joe Budden chainsmoked and Bun B walked over to DJ Khaled and Busta Rhymes, Statik Selektah in tow.
Critical bias: I shook a lot of hands and gave a lot of hugs.
Overheard: Questlove’s hypeman, his hair long, launched into a speech meant to convey history and weight, importance and summary: “Thirty-nine years ago today, DJ Kool Herc started this whole thing with this one song.” Questlove, unaware or simply not on the same page, dropped the proverbial needle on Rick Ross’ “BMF.”
Overheard II: Before leaving the stage, Busta said, “Hot 97 is the realest shit, period. Fuck you if you feel different.” The record executive next to me said, “That’s for Charlemagne, I guess.”
Random notebook dump: 1990s style is so firmly back in vogue that I felt like I was watching vintage party footage at times.
All I Do Is Win
Take It To The Head
I Wish You Would
Lotus Flower Bomb.
I’m So Special
You Don’t Know
Got That Work
I’m Ill (Remix)
Racked Up Shorty
Throw It in the Bag
Dope Bitch (Remix)
Ante Up (Remix)
Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See
Look At Me Now