LIVE: The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival

Photos by Neil Maclean/ Couch Sessions / Brooklyn Bodega

Hip-Hop is still alive.

For the 6th year Brooklyn Bodega has put together The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. Having the event directly under the Brooklyn Bridge was fitting. The iconic symbol has long been aligned with the legacy of hip-hop.

Those coming to see a blow out summer festival might have been disappointed. This was a community affair, complete with neighborhood food vendors and a family area. As I walked around the event, running into old friends and making new friends along the way, it almost seemed like a neighborhood block party. And this my friends, is a good thing, in light of “hip-hop” these days which seems too connected with superficial club culture and material things.

One of the first artists to take the stage as we arrived in New York was the DC trio Diamond District. The group has been on their grind, getting recognition on the underground circuit for a while, with their throwback sound attracting crowds from Europe to the West Coast. They were able to fit in a good amount of material in their short set from their critically acclaimed album “In The Ruff,” including the venerable “Streets Won’t Let Me Chill.”

Next up were the Money Making Jam Boys, who consisted of Dice Raw (briefcase and all), P.O.R.N., Slim and … The group, who impressed at The Roots Picnic earlier this summer, got the crowd hype and their collaboration will most surely be a force in hip-hop. When is the mixtape dropping?

The best part of the festival was hearing The J Dilla Ensemble between sets. The group consisted of Berklee School of Music students, put together by faculty adviser and hip-hop scholar Raydar Ellis. Most notably in the front row were our friends from Sonnymoon.

After a skillful (yet not well received) interlude by Rakka DJ Babu of Dilated Peoples (West Coast still gets no love??)  Black Milk took the stage, proving once again that his live set is one to watch. As always drummer Daru Jones is a beast and makes the set more than enjoyable set. The dude beats on the drums so hard that you can almost hear him from a mile away.

Even with Daru on drums, the most energetic set had to go to Duck Down. After missing their buzzed about showcase at SXSW I was sure to be in the front row for at the festival. And did they deliver. First out the gate was Smif and Wessun, who reminded us that they need to be mentioned in the annuals of hip-hop, dropping bangers from their famed album Dah Shinin’.

Next up, Boot Cam Clik members 5 ft and Buckshot came on stage, to only add to the hypeness of the event. Their energy level couldn’t be matched.

After that point we had to rest. We chilled during Fashawn’s set already tired from the 2 and a half hours of hip-hop before us.

Then it rained….

The clouds were threatning all day with a light dizzle here and there, but durring New Orleans rapper Curren$y’s set the rain poured down. But like a seasoned vet, the band played on, and as umbrellas and ponchos were whipped out, it seemed that the MC nor his band missed a step.

As we ran from the rain, we missed most of J Period’s set (as well as Masta Ace), but we were back in the pit for Pete Rock and CL Smooth who rocked it in a show of solidarity with the late great Guru. In addition, they were joined by Nice and Smooth for a rendition of “Dwyck” and “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow…”

After 6 hours of great hip-hop it was time for the main event. The sky miraculously cleared, and as Michael Rappaport and Adrien Brody made there way backstage, De La Soul jumped on stage. The trio of Plug Won, Trugoy the Dove, and Maceo proved that they were still a force in the game, making even the sound guys take a break from working the boards to pay respect.

Even if their show wasn’t as energetic as some of the earlier times I saw them (most notably their 2 hour plus shows at the 9:30 Club and the Montreal Jazz Festival), the group made the most of their headlining set. All of the mainstays were covered: “Me Myself and I,” and “Saturday,” as well as the always crowd-pleasing “Saturday.”

Even though people often think of 3 Feet High and Rising as their signature album, I actually prefer their later work, most notably Stakes Is High and The Grind Date. Unfortunately it took the death of late producer J-Dilla for the former to catch on. Both title tracks got rave responses from the fans.

And with that, the Brooklyn Hip-Hop festival came to a close. Hip-Hop is still alive.
Much props to Brooklyn Bodega for putting together this event, and we look forward to next year.