The Art of Rap Festival on Saturday in Irvine, spawned from Ice-T’s acclaimed 2012 documentary “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” played host to a generational collection of some of rap music’s most important figures. “I wanted to put together a concert with artists that weren’t on the radio right now,” Ice-T explained from the stage as he thanked the thousands in attendance.
Appropriately dressed in all black, a pair of Chuck Taylors and an L.A. Dodgers fitted hat, T, with DJ Evil E set things off with the seminal “6 in the Mornin’.” Important to the framework of the gangsta rap genre, Ice-T, along with many of the artists in attendance, provided a look into the history of the culture with their contributions. Ice T’s catalog was a history lesson, indeed, as he showcased samples from Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” with his own “I’m Your Pusher” and James Brown’s “The Boss” on the cut “You Played Yourself.”
A presumed pupil of T’s, The Game assumed headlining duties, adding a bit of modernity. He appeased the faithful with loads of favorites off his critically acclaimed debut, with selections like “Hate It or Love It,” “Westside Story” and “Put You on the Game,” prompting shrieks, from the orchestra to the lawn.
Highlights of the festival included an appearance from electro bricklayers and pioneers of the b-boy culture Afrika BamBaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. While the Native American headdress and spandex pants were less than age-appropriate, it’s tough to dismiss the importance of tracks like “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” “Renegades of Funk,” and “Planet Rock.” The tracks, nearing some 35 years old, rallied the crowd to its feet.
Bone Thugs N Harmony managed to reintroduce the gangsta rap glow of 1994 with a blanket of bass. Charging through its most enduring selections, including “1st of tha Month,” “Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” “Foe Tha Love of $,” and “Notorious Thugs,” the Cleveland collective celebrated its 20-year career all while paying homage to mentor Eazy-E as well as collaborators Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.
The tandem of DJ Quik and Suga Free transformed their 20 minutes of stage time into a Southern California house party, amphitheater-size of course. Performances of cuts like “Down, Down, Down” and “Do I Love Her?” proved that the chemistry between the two is still there, and the response was evident as the audience swayed with each verse. Quik’s signature style of rich production and fluid lyrical delivery is unparalleled. His live rendition of “Dollaz & Sense” was an emphatic reminder that if nothing else, Quik owns one of the greatest diss tracks in hip-hop history.
Rounding out the West Coast mainstays that made their mark on hip-hop, Warren G and Xzibit got the party started. Warren’s G-Funk struck a chord with selections like “Summertime in the LBC” (with the Dove Shack), “I’m Fly” (213 with Nate and Snoop Dogg) and, of course, “Regulate,” While Xzibit was a bit more aggressive, songs like “X” and a brief barrage of bars over ZAPP’s “Computer Love” proved potent and precise.
Widely revered for their contributions as rappers, Rakim and the duo of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith flexed rhythmic dexterity on the microphone. For Rakim, tracks like “Microphone Fiend,” the signature horns of “Don’t Sweat the Technique” and “Paid in Full” all got a rise out of fans who braved the afternoon rain to get to their seats early. As for EPMD, the live renditions of “Crossover” and “So Whatcha Sayin’” proved just as stylish as they were when they debuted over two decades ago.
Reaffirming the legacy of hip hop, Kool Moe Dee and Big Daddy Kane pieced together sets that detailed the framework of modern music. KMD took fans back to the park by dropping rhymes over Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real,” citing, “This was how we used to do it before we made rap records.” Big Daddy Kane used his swift delivery and impressive physicality to win over the fans. While hits like “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” and “Smooth Operator” worked well, the 47-year old displayed real commitment as an entertainer when he managed to cap a dance routine by doing the splits onstage before walking off triumphantly.
The Art of Rap Festival
When: Saturday, July 18
Where: Irvine Meadows Amphitheatreource: Art of Rap looks into the history of the culture