The Lyricist Lounge Presents Pete Rock vs. DJ Premier in New York’s East River Park

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. 

  

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Weekly Web Series Review: Behind the Pen

Fans of the excellent satirical newspaper The Onion should be familiar with the name Stan Kelly. A fictional editorial cartoonist whose reactionary views on current events and the way things used to be in the “good old days” (he supposedly began working for the paper in 1957) are expressed with hacky, obvious writing and a crude, simplistic drawing style. I remember when I first saw his work in the pages of “America’s Finest News Source” years ago, I totally fell for it, believing it to be a real strip The Onion had picked up to display ironically, like when they used to run Cathy Guisewite‘s “Cathy” in Spanish. Eventually, though, I realized how unlikely it was that any newspaper anywhere would seriously run strips celebrating the deaths of beloved celebrities like James Brown, for example, and that Kelly’s political cartoons were a joke from the start.

The Onion recently confirmed this all over again with the new web series “Behind the Pen,” in which “Kelly” describes his artistic process and explains the thought process behind his awful, out-of-touch jokes, as if anyone who can read would have trouble understanding his points. In the first episode, “How Marriage Works,” he explains that he’s doing it “to reach the youngsters” with his message. These hypothetical young people are illustrated by archive photographs of at-risk teens, and even one African child holding an assault rifle. He then proceeds to explain his cartoon, “Holy Matri-Money,” complete with an absurdly unnecessary explication of his “last word,” in which his self-portrait alter-ego delivers the punchline. This is a feature of all Kelly’s cartoons, and each episode correspondingly features a “Last Word” segment.

The second episode, “Collective Wisdom,” features another segment entitled “Tips for Young Artists,” in which Kelly hilariously explains the subtlety of his technique: “If you wanna show somebody’s in love with somebody, you put a little heart next to ‘em.” Each subsequent episode (there are five so far, uploaded within the last two months) is better than the last, with Kelly increasingly going into angry tirades about his own family, especially his darkly comic explanation of his cartoon “Nanny State, Ninny State,” in which he skewers the Big Brother program by saying, “A kid’s heart oughta be calloused, it oughta be weathered.”

Kelly’s voice is wonderfully grizzled and mean-spirited – not unlike another brilliant Onion creation, the politician Joad Cressbeckler, who now has his own segment on the Onion News Network television series on IFC – and “Behind the Pen” shows great promise in continuing to develop this fascinating character. The more unhinged and apoplectic he becomes, the funnier he is and the more his character is revealed, so hopefully the series will continue in this direction, as it already seems to be doing.


Behind The Pen: ‘High’ Ideals

  

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