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Oh, how the times have changed. It seems like just yesterday that Biz Markie was charming us with the unwavering squelch of “Just a Friend,” British beat master Slick Rick was recasting the “Mona Lisa,” and the Beastie Boys were putting white-boy rap on the map. Then there were the gold chains and shell-tops; they defined “urban” style as it began to appear on street corners against a backdrop of beat boxes and Ghetto blasters. We’ve come a long way.
Over the course of its 25-year history, hip-hop has continued to evolve, constantly shifting thanks to everything from the stripped-down street flow of Audio Two’s “Top Billin’” to the Dirty South ballistics of Juvenile. That’s why the best parts of the 2nd Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival—coolly located in an abandoned tobacco warehouse underneath the picturesque Brooklyn Bridge—are the visual representations of what hip-hop used to be, where it’s going, and why shifts in creativity are so important to its survival.
There’s not a whole lot to be said for the festival’s expensive beer and even more expensive food, which I managed, with much effort, to avoid. But there’s plenty to be said for the creativity that came early in the day. Playing second, the Procussions—a scrappy, fiercely-independent trio from Colorado Springs, Colorado (of all places)—came out of the gate early and stood as the day’s most innovative, if not best, performers.
“We feel blessed to be in this mighty kingdom they call Brooklyn,” they said. “This is a really big deal for us.”
It was a big deal for the audience, too. Major-label acts on the bill, such as Lupe Fiasco (who’s worked with Kanye West) and Sleepy Brown (best known for his contribution to Outkast’s hit album Speakerboxx/The Love Below) gave cold performances—preferring to verbally push their new albums rather than let stellar shows do the talking.
The Procussions, on the other hand, managed to wow the crowd with old-school- and new-school-style numbers, loading them with contagious rhymes, terrific soul, R&B breakdowns, and rock ‘n roll heart. Mr. J. Medeiros, whose vocals run a close second to the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz, added a punk element to the mix, sporting a mohawk and chiming in with intermittent screams. Bushy-haired Stro stuck to his tight, lyrical flow and drum solos, while Rez glided across the stage with suave demeanor.
As good as they are live, the Procussions aren’t exactly a renegade hip-hop trio. The group’s label, Rawkus Records, was responsible for igniting the career of such indie artists as Mos Def and Talib Kweli before shutting its doors temporarily in 1994. Riding on rich, textured lyricism, sleek instrumentation, and a multitude of rhythms, independent hip-hop has had time to contend with the repetitive thuds of the mainstream.
The Procussions, however, don’t seem terribly concerned with classifications. The central idea behind their music is “unconditional love”—evident on addicting tracks such as “Miss January”, “Carousel”, and “The Storm”. They seem most interested in billboarding the oft-forgotten bond between imaginative arrangement and hip-hop’s inherent street smarts.
By the time Brooklyn’s own Big Daddy Kane took the stage as the festival’s headliner, the Procussions were, presumably, a memory to most. The continuous downpour of rain had subsided and most of the audience was excited to set eyes on a legend. There was an undeniable respect paid to Kane, now 37, who needed little explanation of his greatness. He slid and skipped across the stage with a cool confidence, as if infallible, and led the crowd through silky-smooth tracks and key moments in hip-hop history.
Wouldn’t it be a shame if Kane himself failed to notice a group like the Procussions? With an uncertain future and a world of talent, the threesome could definitely benefit from a well-deserved push. But then, maybe they’ll be fine without one. Hell, if they keep performing the way they do, stardom might come together on its own. That’s how it worked 25 years ago, at least.
The Procussions - The Storm