By: Justin Cook
On the evening of April 25th 2014, I witnessed hip-hop in the rawest form: DJing, MCing, B-Boying and graffiti along the dome of my mental. It was unlike any show I’d ever been to. The sense of community vision and celebration was all around. It all started as I walked into the Loft, a local venue in Lansing, Michigan, and met up with fellow Bonus Cut member Gus Navarro. DJ Ruckus spun classics as people slowly filled the dance floor. I began to recognize a lot of familiar faces: the great people of All of the Above, friends, classmates and co-opers of East Lansing.
Ward Skillz set the tone for the night with flow and delicately crafted lyrics. He was all over the place with his subject matter: the education system, systemic oppression, the grind, believing in your being, to simply spitting some clever witty bars. He had me thinking critically and laughing all at the same time. His presence was chill and assertive, but loose enough to just have a good time. By the end of his set, people had left their chairs in the back and began grooving to the revolution of turntables.
Next up was the fantastic Mr. Ozay Moore. Ladies & gentlemen, put a hand together right now for this man. He has magical powers behind the mic. I don’t know how he did it, but he got that whole place jumping–and fast. Moore commanded the stage like I have never seen before; the Loft was his, and he took us on a hip-hop odyssey. I’m pretty sure everyone was dancing. The room was electric and alive, radiating with the hearts of us all involved. I found myself in a state of uncontrollable joy; I just kept smiling and really couldn’t help doing anything. Why should I do anything else?
In the middle of this set, Moore took a few minutes to speak about his work in All of the Above—a hip-hop academy based out of Lansing. It is located in the YMCA in Oak Park and uses hip-hop as a vehicle to empower the youth. The way it’s supposed to be! They teach classes on the four pillars: DJing, MCing, B-Boying and graffiti writing. Even in a short period, it’s made a significant impact in the Lansing community. A few songs later, Ozay turned the whole venue into a dance circle, and Carl Bowers, B-Boying instructor at AOTA, laid it down, busting out all the moves. The whole room erupted in laughter. Shit was surreal.
Mr. Rapha’el De La Ghetto took the stage next. He was backed by none other than Kim V & the Vandals, including Ms. Ella Campbell on saxophone. It was live as fuck. I’m sorry, but there’s just something about hip-hop with live instrumentation that does something to my soul. It’s the best of both worlds: introspective lyrics with some jazzy live grooves, taking us to church—the church of life & love. So real, it was unreal. Rapha’el took the opportunity to open up to the crowd, dropping knowledge about the daily struggle as a single parent; he told us, gripping an American flag around the mic stand, that only a year ago he was without a home, just him and his daughter, living day-to-day, shelter-to-shelter, grateful for the grace of God.
At this point, I needed some fresh air. I ventured outside with some friends, roamed the surrounding blocks, and found a place by the Red Cedar River to unwind. We took the opportunity to chill, passing through the darkness like a meteor in the night. The Earth revolving, orbiting the Sun, the daily motions of life, and the cycles we find ourselves in. I kept thinking about community, and the interconnected of all experience whether human, tree, flower, weed, planet or eukaryote. The grass was soft beneath the weight of my body, with gravity rooting me into the ground, floating in the rhythm of breaths. These small moments of the day mean so much.
I entered the Loft as DJ Ruckus was building the crowd for Slick Rick. It was like a hip-hop history lesson, curated by MC of the night, Mr. Don Black of Q 96.5. Together, they guided us through the classics: DJ Kool Herc, Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Guru, Biggie and everyone in between. They even had a white guy rap along to an EPMD song on stage. Shit was hilarious. These two knew how to hype a crowd. Don Blackforced everyone to dance, put their hands up, rap along to the songs and scream until the crowd could no longer scream; he wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a workout: some cardio for the heart & soul.
Finally, being the slick dude that he is, Slick Rick graced the stage. And well, Slick Rick is getting old. There is not doubt that Slick Rick is a hip-hop legend, but he is not in his prime. Nevertheless, he put on one unique show; I could tell he was into it. He donned his iconic eye-patch & chains. At first, his energy was very subdued—not really engaging the crowd. But by the middle of his set, he had us all chanting, “lick the balls!” He might have been a little drunk, but the man was getting it. I can’t get mad at that. It was what it was, and it was beautiful. It was a night of classic hip-hop, a renaissance of sorts, and I was grateful to be a part of it.