Anybody who’s been lamenting over the loss of creativity, talent and just plain fun in today’s Hip-Hop world was happy to hear about the return of Fresh Fest. The legendary tour was the first of its kind back in ’84 and pulled in millions of dollars, much to the surprise of the establishment who never believed a tour featuring nothing but rappers could do much. You had people like Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, etc at the top of their game headlining—and let’s not forget a pint-sized Jermaine Dupri dancing as the opening act.
Fast-forward to now, though. Besides old stand-bys like Hot 97’s Summer Jam (which doesn’t tour), the Anger Management tour, and the irregular Spitkicker and Smoking Grooves tours, there isn’t much selection for old heads like me in New York who still reminisce about the good ol’ days and won’t let go. So, when Blackberry Entertainment along with the rapper formerly known as Lil’ Shawn got together to announce the revival of Fresh Fest, I was overcome with sheer excitement. The steep $55-$65 ticket was painful, but for the chance to see pioneers and favorites like Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Dana Dane, Biz Markie, Nice and Smooth, Chubb Rock, Whodini, Sugar Hill Gang and Big Daddy Kane all in one night, it would surely be worth the sacrifice. Or so I thought.
First of all, the event was held in Hammerstein Ballroom, a big venue befitting perhaps a better-advertised concert. Fresh Fest wasn’t very well advertised despite being co-sponsored by local Hip-Hop and R&B station, Power 105. As I looked around the place, it was pretty empty for such a big-deal event. A smaller venue would have made it seemed more packed, but then the promoters probably expected a lot more people—wait, how could they when they barely advertised? So, I was two hours late to my concert of a lifetime and missed Nice and Smooth and Chubb Rock, two of the acts that I’d never seen live before. However, I came in right on time to see a well-dressed brother in pink rocking the crowd that was gathered up close by the stage. It was Dana Dane doing all his classics and his special guests, D-Nice and Kwame, who did one song each. That was cool and it was nice to see them looking good after all these years, too. After his set, the hosts, Power 105 personalities and Hip-Hop vets Monie Love and Ed Lover, came around and did their typical we-need-to-fill-in time host banter with each other and the audience. Monie, the only woman on the stage the whole night, broke into one bar of her verse on Queen Latifah’s classic “Ladies First” (which I knew she would do at some point in the show). They finally gave way to the diabolical one, Biz, who took off his shirt (he put back on whatever weight he lost in Celebrity Fit Club!), did his classics and his dance.
Sugar Hill Gang came on and did their set, which I’m sorry to say was too long. The crowd was into it at the beginning but I could see interest fading fast. I understand their significance and all, but did they really have to perform so long? All the while in between acts were Brucie B and S&S spinning old and current classics in the middle of the stage. Now, I know DJing is the foundation of rap music—hell, music as a whole—and no disrespect to those legends, but their long sets in between acts was tiresome. I really wasn’t there to see turntable tricks and mastery. I know those guys know what they’re doing. A highlight between acts though, was the one and only Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers kicking an intelligent and thought-provoking freestyle about hip-hop and his place in it. Then came Whodini rocking the crowd for old-times sake with some stagehand in the background eventually motioning for them to wrap up their lively set.
Last but not least was the dynamic duo of the greatest entertainer and the greatest storyteller closing out the show. Doug E. Fresh bought out a very grown-up Little Vicious, who did his classic “Freak” and he also had the so-called Hip-Hop violinist, Miri Ben Ari do a little something. To be honest I wasn’t paying attention to her. The Ruler did “Children’s Story” and together, they did “The Show”. Unfortunately, their time onstage was cut short; I don’t know if it was just because the Hammerstein people don’t play when it comes to time, or if maybe that Sugar Hill set was just too damn long. In any case, everyone was disappointed that the show ended the way it did, especially when we didn’t even get to hear La-Di-Da-Di.
Did I mention Big Daddy Kane was part of the lineup? Well, he was a no-show. No, actually he did show up but just didn’t get on the stage leaving many disgruntled faces in the place, including mine. Apparently, Kane was ready to perform that night, but when he got there, the promoters didn’t have his money. Damn. I guess you really can’t blame the guy—doing shows is how he earns his living—but it was still messed up. He was really who I wanted to see in the first place. But then with the way the acts (except Sugar Hill Gang) were being timed so strictly, I wonder just how many songs he would have been able to do
I wound up scoring a free ticket and it’s just as well because otherwise, I’d have been one of the many upset folks complaining about how the concert just wasn’t worth the price. Next time, the promoters need to PROMOTE the concert, pick a better venue, give all artists equal time, add some women in the lineup, and please, please—have Kane’s money right.