Review: De La Soul at The 9:30 Club, Washington, DC

Picture is from the De La Soul show at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2008

“They’ll never be a breakup” says . For some bands this is famous last words but for De La Soul, a group that has been together–and stayed together–for over 20 years, this phrase is set in stone.

The trio rolled through the 9:30 Club on Tuesday night, dropping classic tracks as well as some surprises to the near capacity crowd. Backed by LA’s Rhythm Roots All Stars, the group completely, utterly, destroyed the club, and rocked a show harder than most rappers half their age.

The night began with a sparse, yet appreciative crowd for LA newcomer Keenan Bell. Bell might be an unknown on this side of the country, but he’s one of the most solid young rappers that I’ve seen in a while. With a naisly whine a la B Real from Cyprus Hill. , Bell and his live band, Bell and his crew were polished for their first tour and we will be hearing more from him soon.

Next up on the bill was Little Brother member Big Pooh. Pooh might have better name recognition than Bell, but he did little to get the crowd going. When he asked who knew about his upcoming album, only one person hollered back. Even with that setback, Pooh had a great sense of humor as he went through some mixtape tracks and the highlight from his set–old school Little Brother from their album The Listening.

The third member of the undercard was Harlem rapper Bill Ray, an associate of De La member Maseo. Even though it seemed like Ray was just another dude trying to hustle his way onto the bill,  he had control of the restless crowd and his throwback flow is a welcome change to most faceless, nameless rappers in the game.

After three acts, it was time to bring out De La Soul. The group casually rolled out onto stage and immediately talked about the 20th years anniversary of their classic album 3 feet High and Rising. Unlike the last time I saw them in Montreal, the group was backed by the live band, giving this show a new dimension. After backing such names as Ghostface, Rakim, and Mos Def, The Rhythm Roots All Stars are no strangers to the live hip-hop format and they adjusted to De La’s throbbing beats accordingly.

Instead of going through 3 Feet High track by track like Public Enemy did to It Takes a Nation of Millions, the group only made passing references to the album, focusing more on their more recent (and some might say better) works, The Grind Date, Stakes Is High, and Bionix. For the next hour, the trip went through tracks like “A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays,” “Say No Go,” and “Pass the Peas,” as well as a  Dilla tribute with the track “Stakes Is High, with the All Stars belting out the horn sample perfectly.

During the middle of the set, the band took their “union break,” as they De La through songs like “Potholes in My lawn” and rougher cuts like “The Grind Date,” a track that got the crowd especially riled up. Afterwords, the band came back as they went through the track “All Good,” from Bionix and of course their hit single “Me Myself, and I.” During the much needed encore (the crowd wasn’t going to leave), they dropped a surprise version of their Gorillaz track “Feel Good,” an a tribute to RUN DMC.

While other rappers spend their time on the Internet beefing, the dudes in De La Soul are busy rocking shows and keeping their legacy alive. The trio, is not ashamed about their age (Kelvin even celebrated his 40th birthday onstage), and these “old men” kept the energy level high throughout the near 2 hour set. Hat tip also goes to the Rhythrm Roots All Stars, who are becoming the best hip-hop backing band (other than The Roots of course) in the game. The combination made for one of the best hip-hop shows I’ve seen in a while.