We don’t get a whole lot of hip-hop shows in Boston, especially when it comes to the legends. So when I heard that Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick-two of my favorite emcees of all time-were playing the Wilbur Theatre in Beantown, I was immediately in. I was too young to see these guys when they were in their heyday, but like they say there’s no time like the present.
Although both rappers’ sets were a little shorter than I’d like them to be, both men (combined age as I write this: 92) put on a show filled with classics, reminding me of how much of a hip-hop head I was in my teenage years. Seeing Rick and Kane brought back fond memories of sitting in my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn with a boombox next to me, listening to the DJ Red Alert and DJ Chuck Chillout shows on Friday and Saturday nights. My finger would get sore from slamming it against the boombox’s pause button.
Check out our interview with Big Daddy Kane here…
A couple of DJ sets began the show, and they definitely warmed the crowd up with a series of old school classics (even though “Christmas in Hollis” seemed oddly placed at a show on March 29th.) Rick came out, decked from head to toe in his signature jewelry and ripped right into “I Shouldn’t Have Done It.” He’s put on a few pounds over the years, but remains as engaging as ever. He performed almost all of the songs from The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, from “Mona Lisa” to “Hey Young World.” Highlights included a revised “Teenage Love” (rapped over a snatch of Jean Carn’s “Don’t Let it Go to Your Head”) and a spirited version of “The Moment I Feared.” Rick’s one major misstep occurred when his DJ, possibly in an effort to appeal to the younguns in the crowd, played Ace Hood’s “Hustle Hard.” The crowd (most of whom had to be over 30 years of age) was not trying to hear that, and made their displeasure vocal. The DJ quickly recovered with House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” which is pretty much every white hip-hop fan in Boston’s national anthem, and order was restored.
Of course, no Slick Rick concert would be complete without “The Show” and “La Di Da Di.” These were virtual rap-alongs-Rick didn’t have to say a single word. The audience did all the work for him. Although slightly disappointed with Rick’s lack of stage presence (he didn’t move around very much.) it was a fun trip down memory lane.
Big Daddy Kane made up for any deficiencies in his predecessor’s set. To make a long story short, he tore the house down. Kane harkened back to the day when the mere presence of a performer was enough to guarantee a good show. Rocking all white, he pimp-strolled out onto the set to the strains of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” before launching into his hit of the same name. Kane’s set included the hits “Smooth Operator,” “I Get the Job Done,” “Raw,” “Set it Off” and his duet with the late Big L, “Platinum Plus.” He teased the audience with dance moves (I wonder what Scoob Lover and Scrap Lover are doing these days) and drove the women nuts, as has been his custom for a quarter century. The guy’s sense of showmanship was crazy, as was his rapport with the audience. Towards the end of his set, Kane even jumped into the audience and took a lap around the floor section of the theater. He also delivered a tongue-twisting acapella freestyle verse that would put just about every rapper today to shame. It was an unbelievable experience and made me a little more sad that I was never able to catch a Kane gig in the early ’90s (or late ’80s, for that matter.)
It appears that there’s a burgeoning nostalgia circuit for hip-hop same as there’s been for soul and rock for years. To my eyes, the Wilbur was pretty full, and the crowd was definitely into it. Even though Kane didn’t perform any new material or even mention the fact that he has a new album out, he gave the audience their money’s worth, for sure. I tip my cap to these legends for continuing to rock shows all these years later, and bear witness to the fact that real hip-hop is still in the building.