Growing up in the '90s in Philadelphia, I often wished I was 18 - 21 in the formative years of East Coast Hip Hop. I was already buying my own music, supporting my own tastes. I was down for the cause but my age held me to allegiance but not attendance. As a developing young black woman I related to the feminism of Queen Latifah, the spiritual optimism of A Tribe Called Quest, the critical analysis of De La Soul, and the plain solid rhythms of the Jungle Brothers. They all spoke to me in a native tounge. In their prime I never saw any one of them in concert. Not once. My mother once offered to take me to see Sade and Digable Planets at the Mann Music Theater. She took a friend instead. She said I was too young.
So, light years and legal ages later, on Tuesday night at Mo Pitkins (an East Village bar and lounge) I was extra hyphy at the prospect of seeing Dres perform live with at backing band. Mo Pitkins is illuminated by it's own neon blue name on Avenue A and 2nd in the East Village. The lounge is two floors large with a full bar on the bottom and the top. All attendee's were ushered upstairs, given a happy face stamp on their right hands and placed in the front half of the bisected second floor. The eats were experimental comfort foods ranging from chorizo sliders to lox on baguettes. Displayed on a screen near the bar were the goings on of the opening DJ. The mix of the music compelled me to take a closer look. Being a DJ and a dancer I like to get close to the DJ just so in the rare case he or she plays something I don't know, I'm in prime position to peek. Unbeknownst to me, the small inquisition I was about to make would move me closer to a new moment in hip hop. I stepped to the dude telling the most people what to do, Rob Schustack of The Orchard, and asked him where the DJ was in respect to the room I was in and if I could go there. Cordially and affirmatively he quickly replied "Yes." I was then escorted into a small 20 foot room with a small stage no more than 8 feet across and 4 feet wide. I took a seat closet to the DJ and begin to rock. First to the Roots, then to The Coup, then to Gnarls. Across from me enjoying the DJ just as devoutly as your truly, was the Jungle Brothers DJ and new bandmate of Dres, DJ Sammie B. Of course I didn't realize this until he got up at 10:43 pm and headed behind the turntables.
And in that instant, almost as if my prayers were being read by Afrika Bambatta himself, the band collected itself on stage. One at a time, the guitarist tunes his instrument, the drummer straightens out his cymbals, the bassist stares straight ahead... then in perfect time he drops one of the most recognizable basslines in Hip Hop.
The liquor and the gravity of the situation hit me at the same time when I realized that less than two feet away from me what the D.R.E.S., one half of Black Sheep. Dres was dressed in a bright orange silkish collared shirt with a long brown shirt in light brown dockers, wallabee's and a braided belt. Clean and dapper in ninties fashion, with a tuck in the front to reveal a braided belt with a silver buckle. Classic. He moved nonchalantly from behind the velvet black backstage curtain. Flowing effortless through his most known 1991 hit "Flavor Of The Month," from Black Sheep's debut and most successful commercial release off of Wolf In Sheeps Clothing, Andre "Dres" Titus showed no loss of crowd connect or stage presence. After performing "In The Meantime" he addressed the obvious absence of his longtime partner and bandmate William McLean, aka "Mista Lawnge". "He's persuing a solo career... It's all love he just wants to do his own thing... it's all love". He kept it real and kept it moving, launching into three new songs off his new album 8WM/ Novacaine, the meaning for which Dres would keep secret until the very end of the show.
Dres played the MC role to the fullest, cueing both the DJ and the drummer during the well rehearsed comeback show. Who Dat's production was refreshingly tight and forward. Its was definitively both native tounge and experimental styles, complete with the tight bassline, well placed samples and quickly memorized melodies. In a bigger club in another time I would've been dancing, but there was a seat there so I sat in it. Contrasting the mood of "Who Dat," "Be Careful/Ten Cuidado" was a cautionary tale of music industry vs real love, lust, trust and deviance. Everyone at this point has the same look in their eyes. The look of relief and trust. Dres is back in a way that's relevant and in a way that can move his sound into the next 10 years. Doom anyone?
What's a Hip Hop show without guests? Dres brough out "The Legion," a Queens crew most known for their '90s track "Jingle Jangle" feat. Black Sheep. With guest rhymes in tow the three members of Legion ripped through the chorus with a FuShinicken fervor - "Size 'em Up, Break 'em Down, Here We Go!" - honoring the blessing it was to be on stage and in the presence of Hip Hop on it's come up and comeback. Just Ice, another "positive" '90s era MC gave a powerful refresher course on free styling and bodybuilding. The dude is diesel.
Dres, with the full compliment of new and old homies onstage with him, cued the ultimate hip hop party jump off, "This Or That". "Engine Engine Number Nine/On the New York transit line/If my train falls off the track/Pick it up, Pick it up, Pick it up!!!!" During this song at most parties with the room be filled to capacity, chairs are being thown at this point. In this journalist filled room, however, the response was more reserved and we chanted the lyrics verbatim and pumped our collective fists in unison... a fair and respectful compromise.
The album 8WM/Novacaine which stands for "Women With Women With Weed With Wine With Me" suffers from no lack of creative production or intelltigent lyricism. I was surprised at the growth in his style, coming from the harsh misogynistic display of bravado from his persona of the '90s to the reflective and promising meditative styles of 8WM/ Novacaine of today. 8WM/ Novacaine may be true to form, but it's definitely not the norm.
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