Raekwon and Sean P drop legendary beats in Noho
Steven Baum also contributed to this report.
What happened in the Pearl Street Night Club in Northampton on Saturday night was the makings of legends.
In a venue smaller than the basketball court at UMass’s new recreation center, two artists of legendary and epic proportions loomed larger than life over a crowd of true hip-hop fans. It was an event with intimate feeling; a feeling felt only when fans witness their heroes performing songs that have become anthems of an underground culture. For a few hours, gods of the rap game fed off the energy and raw emotion from the crowd, powerfully performing hip-hop classics, old and new. It was night of ecstasy and awesomeness for real fans of hip-hop. It was magical.
The opening act of the night, Hendersin, arrived on stage to meager applause, an appropriate response considering the set that followed. Performing songs from an apparently new mix tape, Hendersin’s words could barely be understood as he rapped into the microphone. His sound was more (hip)-POP than hip-hop, sounding like almost every song looped on “hot” radio stations these days.
Halfway through the less-than-impressive set of unknown tunes, Hendersin took a break from his routine, exclaiming, “I love to freestyle…Somebody gimme a topic!” After hearing suggestions ranging from Nikes to geometry, Hendersin settled on the topic of ex-girlfriends. He struggled through a few lines of underwhelming rhymes before launching into what clearly seemed like a memorized verse. With the free-styling segment of his set completed, Hendersin continued on with his songs before exiting the stage to more meager applause from the less-than-impressed crowd.
Then the real show began. Enter the first legend of the night: Sean Price.
As soon as Sean P took the stage, the entire crowd was lifted into one unifying, unwavering bounce that did not cease until Price was out of sight an hour later. He opened his set with “Operation Lockdown,” the first single off his debut album “Nocturnal” by Heltah Skeltah. Price’s verse was just as hard as the original was 14 years ago. P kept his energy up throughout the entire performance, rarely pausing to breathe, let alone communicate anything but his art with the crowd. Perhaps an ode to the time and situation of Price’s early recordings, this show was strictly about his music; no gimmicks or marketing ploys, just real beats and lyrics. Price continued on, playing songs from his two solo albums. Using very few hooks and virtually no choruses, P simply spit verse after verse as if he couldn’t stop. Even when the beats cut off, Price kept going, busting off a verse to no music as he walked off the stage to resounding cheers.
One anxious, nervous, long half-hour later, the headline act of the night finally emerged: Raekwon. The crowd erupted. Feeding off the incredible energy emitted from the audience, Rae proceeded to tear the house down like only he can do.
Raekwon wasted no time in dropping a classic song on his fans, as he began with the immortal “C.R.E.A.M,” to which he wrote the first verse back in 1993. The harsh depiction of the realities growing up in the ghetto backed to a beautiful piano sample sticks with you no matter where you come from. The feelings that shine through the music are universal. An infinite well of classic songs to choose from, Rae had exactly two problems with his performance: that everybody who helped collaborate to write these songs was not present, and that the set could not have been long enough.
Highlights of the concert included the Wu-collaboration “Ice Cream,” “Criminology,” and “Rainy Dayz” from Cuban Linx 1, all of which sport the classic Wu-Tang beats of the RZA. Also, an underrated classic “Can It Be All So simple,” from “Enter the Wu Tang,” made a much-needed appearance. After closing with the perfectly simple, yet brilliant two-note beat of “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” just as quickly as he had gotten on stage, Rae was gone.
The crowd, from the beginning to the end of the show, seemed to move and bounce constantly, but Raekwon barely ever moved an inch. The message of his performance, and of the Wu-Tang way, however, was clear. “For all you who are down with the real, underground hip-hop,” Rae would utter in between songs, “this is for you. For all the true underground hip-hop heads, let’s keep it underground.” That’s exactly what he did: he gave a true, underground performance for the true underground hip-hop head.
As he exited the stage, fans rushed to the stage to slap hands with a living legend. With that, the night was over, the gods gone from their stage, and their performances engrained in the minds of the awed audience fortunate enough to witness legendary show.
Yoel Drachman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Steven Baum can be reached at email@example.com.