In the early ’90s, hip-hop was going through a transformation. West Coast artists such as Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Tha Dogg Pound used their verbal arsenals to attack East Coast rappers. Further exacerbating the volatile situation between East and West, Tupac Shakur signed to Suge Knight’s Death Row Records and took it upon himself to challenge the likes of Nasir Jones (Nas) and Christopher Wallace (Notorious B.I.G.), in an attempt to proclaim West Coast dominance. But, though the feud between Tupac and B.I.G. seemed to foreshadow a never-ending war between America’s coastlines, it seems to have fallen by the wayside, at least as far as 2K Sports is concerned. In early 2007, the game franchise announced it plans to unite the hottest hip-hop acts from both coasts to create an energetic soundtrack for the newest installment in their sports game repertoire — All Pro Football 2K8. To simultaneously promote the game and soundtrack, 2K Sports put together a tour that gives gamers and fans a small glimpse into the world of All Pro Football 2K8; on August 6th, DJ Z-Trip landed in New York City with fellow turntablist Tricky T, lyrical genius Gift of Gab (from powerhouse group Blackalicious), tongue-twisting wordsmith Aceyalone, and drummer Pete McNeal to transform Highline Ballroom into a fully interactive house party — Xboxes and all. Before DJ Tricky T got the show underway, people spent time testing out APF2K8 on consoles outside the main hall. Similar to what one might see in the electronics department at a local Best Buy, each exhibit was equipped with two controllers which allowed people to tackle each other on screen while waiting for the show to start. With two huge screens in the stage’s background flashing continuous loops of APF2K8 commercials, DJ Tricky T — a friend of DJ Z-Trip for 13 years — got behind the decks to show New Yorkers what Arizona DJing is all about. Tricky T’s set started off with old-school New York records such as Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments” and Big L’s “Ebonics”, before slowing things down with some Barry White. Tricky T’s transitions were smooth, allowing him to jump from Redman or Gangstarr to Roni Size and The Fresh Prince with ease. By the end of Tricky T’s set, Highline Ballroom’s huge floor had filled with hip-hop enthusiasts primed for DJ Z-Trip’s mash-up mayhem. Most mash-up albums stay underground because the songs on their mixes are used without written or expressed consent. For this reason, Z-Trip’s original Uneasy Listening, Vol. 1 never received the mass production and distribution it deserved. But, though only 2000 copies were made, it soon became a cult favorite on the internet. After incessant touring and multiple collaborations, Z-Trip released his major-label debut, Shifting Gears, in 2005. Compiled with original material produced by Z-Trip himself, the record catapulted the producer from underground legend to mainstream power. Climbing that wave of acclaim, Z-Trip took the stage and immediately… hit the drums? Z-Trip banged out a few rhythms on the center-stage drum kit, located between the two screens, before taking his rightful place behind the wheels of steel. Welcomed with roaring applause, Z-Trip got his set underway with the Beastie Boys’ hometown hit “No Sleep ’Till Brooklyn”, before treating fans to a collage that mixed Alice in Chains with Peter Gabriel. Flashes of old Robert Plant and Jimmy Page live footage consumed both screens while Z-Trip fused Flavor Flav’s vocals from Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” with the thunderous blast of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, sending onlookers into a rocking frenzy. Looking at the audience, it quickly became obvious who was and wasn’t familiar with Z-Trip’s specialized technique. Fans of Z-Trip didn’t stop bouncing throughout the set, whereas newcomers often seemed perplexed by his alternate versions of the hits. With flashing strobe lights accompanied by live visual mixing, Z-Trip kept the audience in suspense as he jumped from the Pharcyde’s “Passin Me By” to N.W.A.’s “Boyz In the Hood”, then sped things up with exceptionally fast drum ‘n bass beats accentuated by synchronized Tron-looking graphics. Z-Trip’s set cut to a close with a scratching spectacle that brought together Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Rage Against the Machine, and Queen. After releasing a rush of endorphins, Z-Trip brought out Freestyle Fellowship’s Aceyalone to show New Yorkers how California rappers personify the ill rhymesayer title.
As a founding member of Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone (born Eddie Hayes) took his raps in a more poetic direction during a time when hardcore gangsta rap dominated the airwaves. After the Fellowship disbanded, Aceyalone embarked on a solo career that’s yielded several solo albums, including last year’s Magnificent City, which features production by famed mixmaster RJD2. With over 15 years of rapping experience under his belt, Aceyalone emerged — sporting a mohawk hairdo and bright yellow shirt — with a microphone and an eccentric rhyme flow that only a handful of artists can replicate. In between his multi-syllabic freestyles, Aceyalone jumped into a ferocious rendition of Project Blowed’s 2005 single “Who the Fuck Is You?” which galvanized the animated audience. Acey slowed the tempo down with a crowd-pleasing version of “All for U”, off Magnificent City, which was immediately followed by the aggressive “Automatic at It”, from the APF2K8 soundtrack. The smorgasbord soon shifted into high gear as Blackalicious’ very own Gift of Gab brought his unprecedented wordplay to center stage. Gift of Gab (born Tim Parker) started developing his skills as a battle rapper while attending high school in Sacramento, where he met producer/DJ Chief Xcel. They formed Blackalicious in the early ’90s, and the release of their two classic albums in 2000 and 2002 elevated Gift of Gab to superhuman emcee status. His newfound fame allowed him to release his 2004 solo debut, 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, named after the feeling one receives upon kissing the Blarney Stone. The audience got their own taste of the Blarney Stone as Gift of Gab opened his set with “Rhythm Sticks” off Blackalicious’ 2006 album, The Craft. “Every time I step on stage, God keeps blessing me,” Gift of Gab confessed to the zealous crowd. After a round hot rhymes, Z-Trip stopped the beat, allowing Gab to display his command of the English language with a fierce a capella freestyle. Dressed in a white sports jacket with a matching kangol hat, Gab remained confident throughout his set, despite stumbling a bit during one of his songs. The slight mishap only happened because Gab rhymed with such intense speed that his brain was processing lyrics slower than his mouth could fire them. Still, Gab kept the momentum going, finishing his powerful set with the Cut Chemist-produced “Chemical Calisthenics” from 2002’s Blazing Arrow. Although we’d already gotten everything the bill had promised, two special guests appeared, adding fuel to the already booming fire. The first was Pete McNeal of the Mike Doughty Band, who immediately started banging away on the drums. Z-Trip complemented McNeal’s boom with classic-rock songs which, together, replicated the feel of a live, full-band performance. The audience was treated to stellar versions of KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police”, Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick”, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, and of course, Z-Trip’s famous remix of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”. The songs were enhanced by a constant barrage of old footage of the aforementioned bands. By the time McNeal was done drilling the poor drum set, he was pouring enough sweat to fill a two-liter Gatorade bottle.
The second special guest of the evening goes by the name of King Heron, but anybody who claims to be a fan of hip-hop should be familiar with his other alias, Rakim (from Eric B. & Rakim). Sporting an “I AM HIPHOP.com” shirt and a half-red, half-yellow New York Yankees cap, Rakim (born William Griffin) opened his set with “I Ain’t No Joke”, off 1987’s Paid In Full. Aceyalone, Gift of Gab, Pete McNeal, DJ Tricky T, and everyone else in attendance watched in awe as the MC spit the legendary lyrics that inspired a generation of artists. After shocking the crowd with his surprise appearance, the microphone fiend went into a new song off the APF2K8 soundtrack, “Let the Rhythm Hit ’Em 2007”. A Z-Trip remix of the original Eric B. & Rakim classic of the same name, the new track incited excitement from fans, but it was the classic “Juice, Know the Ledge” off 1988’s Follow The Leader that really brought the house down. Rakim ended the show by thanking fans for their support and promising the release of new material later this year.
Hip-hop has definitely evolved since the days of the infamous East Coast/West Coast feud. It’s safe to say that most of the fans who attended the All Pro Tour at New York City’s Highline Ballroom represented the East Coast, yet they cheered and sang along with West Coast heroes Aceyalone and Gift of Gab as if those artists were New York sons. DJ Tricky T, who was born on the West Coast, managed to include a fair number of East Coast tunes in his mix, while Gift of Gab, during his set, admitted to fans that he “grew up on New York hip-hop.” East Coast legend Rakim also gave respect to West Coast-born DJ Z-Trip throughout his performance. The fluidity of the Highline Ballroom show, and the album this tour promotes are proof that hip-hop has come a long way in the last decade. If this All Pro Tour mash-up trend further solidifies camaraderie between East Coast and West Coast artists, then perhaps the advertisement for All Pro Football 2K8 will hold true for years to come: Legends on the Field, Legends on the Soundtrack.