Last night at Manhattan’s East River Park, the legendary Lyricist Lounge continued their 20th anniversary celebration with a free show featuring two of Hip-Hop’s all-time greatest producers and deejays, Pete Rock and DJ Premier. Hosted by Lyricist Lounge founders Danny Castro and Ant Marshall, the show was dubbed “Pete Rock vs. DJ Premier,” though it was really less a battle than a collaborative showcase. Castro began the show by schooling the audience on a bit of trivia about the East River Park bandshell, which is where the finale of the 1983 Hip-Hop classic “Wild Style” was filmed.
Pete Rock and Premo opened their shared set with a tribute to Rock’s cousin, the late, great Heavy D, taking turns spinning some of his best-loved jams, including the classic “Nuttin’ But Love.” The evening was heavy on R.I.P. shout outs to some of the great musicians of the past, including a medley of Rick James songs like “Give It to Me Baby” and “Mary Jane,” a brief medley of the Jackson 5 hits “I Want You Back” and “ABC,” and a much more extended medley of the James Brown classics “The Payback,” “Soul Power,” “Make It Funky,” and “Sex Machine.” Along with cuts from Al Green, Kool & the Gang, the Commodores and more, Premo and Rock’s set felt like a miniature history lesson in black music, continuing into the rest of the evening.
Promising to soon go head to head with some of their own original beats, the two deejays first segued into the Hip-Hop portion of the evening with some ’80s favorites like Afrika Bambaataa‘s “Planet Rock,” MC Lyte‘s “Survival of the Fittest,” Audio Two‘s “Top Billin’,” Eric B. & Rakim‘s “Move the Crowd,” and Biz Markie‘s “Nobody Beats the Biz.” When Premo spun the Boogie Down Productions battle classic “The Bridge is Over,” a diss track aimed partly at Marley Marl (a huge influence on both Rock and Premo), Rock observed, “It’s even hard to hear at a distance, ’cause those are my people.”
Unfortunately, before they could get into the golden era of ’90s Hip-Hop, including the promised battle of their own productions and a promised special guest rapper (who, based on the outstanding scope of their past collaborations, could have been virtually any heavyweight emcee still alive and breathing), there was a power failure that brought the show to a premature end. I thought it was a gimmick at first, and much of the crowd began chanting “Hip-Hop,” as if our true belief could bring the lights and sound back on. Sad to say, in a city with subways full of ads featuring the slogan “Never be powerless,” the promoters and technicians were unable to bring the show back. It was a disappointing ending to an otherwise enjoyable evening of music brought to us by two of the greatest deejays alive.