Early Saturday afternoon, in the borough that’s claimed by countless music greats, clouds loomed overhead while small herds of hip-hop junkies began gathering along the East River for the annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. Pier 3 at Brooklyn Bridge Park started transforming from an industrial eyesore to the grounds of a potentially legendary celebration, as you couldn’t help but overhear countless conversations about rumored acts like Rakim, Raekwon, and Q-Tip. Clear Soul Forces, Ka, Chuwee, and the duo Fat Tony & Tom Cruz provided quality performances for the majority of the afternoon, despite the fact they were greeted by a minute amount of crowd support. The audience seemed overly eager and at some points impatient for Busta Rhymes and his mysterious clan of colleagues to conduct the finale.
Until after about an hour of waiting, Busta finally emerged from a number of Zulu Warrior looking body guards, making his way to the stage despite faulty DJ sets and political speeches. The crowd’s support seemed to have taken a 360 degree turn. Busta as the general he has portrayed throughout his career as figurehead of Leaders of the New School, to Flipmode Squad, he commanded the BKHHF with impeccable stage presence. Salute. The hometown emcee started his set with rapid fire hits, only finishing single verses (sometimes less), proclaiming that “I have a lot of stuff to play and not a lot of time.” During this span of short-lived songs, Busta took time to commemorate the great J Dilla, while coincidentally the sun made a break from the clouds and made an appearance that lasted until the end of the set.
The celebration really began to take off when Busta invited Brooklynites Buckshot and Smif-N-Wessun up to play a few jams. As their performance of “Bucktown” ended, the Mash Out Posse (better known as M.O.P.) ripped into “Ante Up,” one of the hypest songs of all time that also featured Busta. The awakened crowd followed along with every word. After the high adrenaline performance, Busta ushered Fame and Billy Danz off the stage and began changing his outfit, returning with at least six massive gold chains on his neck just to announce Slick Rick as the next act.
This was the pivotal point when the show went from enjoyable to legendary. Rick came out in all his nostalgic attire: eye patch and chains, equipped with rhymes. “Children’s Story” rang out from the speakers, making its way out to the river, while hip-hop heads of all ages sang along with him, showing the power of hip-hop and the amount of people in separate generations it has impacted. Slick Rick’s one song show could have been enough for the crowd, but Busta promised he had more in store as he invited the members of Leaders of the New School up with him to reunite for the classic “Case of the PTA.” It was another classic that brought the crowd back to the golden era, and it was obvious that the earlier impatient eager crowd was now overly pleased with Busta’s surprises. But the fun didn’t stop there.
Busta’s next announcement was by far the biggest of the night, as he introduced Phife Dawg up to the stage to perform the beginning verse of the Tribe and LONS classic, “Scenario.” LONS members Charlie Brown and Dinco D recited their verses, and just as Dinco finished, Q-Tip appeared in time to scream, “It’s the leader Quest vision and we got the goods here.” The night was complete. A reunion of Tribe on-stage together, the presence of legendary Slick Rick, LONS united, Boot Camp Clik members and M.O.P in attendance. It was a truly surreal moment for NY hip-hop, as any grudges that stand between artists were overcome to give the crowd a show of a lifetime. It demonstrated the what hip-hop was and is all about: fans and artists of all backgrounds and ages coming together, witnessing and partaking in history.
Earlier in the week we had the chance to sit down with the creator of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, Wes Jackson. This is what he had to say about the festival that’s been in place for eight years now.
CLICK THE PAGE NUMBERS BELOW FOR THE FULL INTERVIEW, PLUS SHOTS OF THE SHOW’S PERFORMERS.
1You want to get elected? Whats your hip-hop platform like? - Wes Jackson
Mass Appeal: When did the BKHHF start and what was the original inspiration for it?
Wes Jackson: “It started in 2005, this is our eighth year. The story I like to tell is that in 2004 I went to the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I had a crazy dope time, seeing everyone from Dave Matthews to Mystikal, along with all the great food, drinks and people. Then in January that year while in the gym a light bulb went off about doing something like that, but for hip-hop and Brooklyn. I thought we should do a Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. I went to the office and talked to some of the cats at the office and they though it was another crazy Wes Idea, but within six months we were rolling.
What is your favorite memory from the past the festivals?
“When we did KRS One the fourth year. One of my other inspirations was when I was younger, he did Summer Stage, which still goes on now. I’m from the Bronx originally so I loved KRS One and used to see him for free at the park. I always wanted the BKHHF to give that inspiration to the younger version of me. Before KRS went on that year, his manager approached me saying, “Kris wants to talk to you.” So I came over, and Kris was actually hiding in the weeds of Empire Ferry Park, behind everyone’s view watching the show. He asked me, “Is this your shit?” And I said, “Yes,” figuring he was gonna ask for his money. But he said, “Yo this is dope.” I bugged out and told him I was trying to make you proud. “He told me I accomplished that.” So after that I’ve always been like you know what, I’m alright.”
Can you elaborate on the community aspect of the festival and the political presence woven throughout it?
Growing up in the Bronx, hip-hop was not some supper expensive $500 ticket thing, especially in the summer, you could go out and just hear it anywhere. So I wanted it to be more community based and not capitalistic, “let’s get money.” It’s about the culture. So in doing that we want—to return to hip-hop being a positive outlet for kids. Then obviously in the age of Obama, young metropolitan kids who are digitally inclined have a lot of power, so now when dudes want to run for mayor or congress, like my man Hakeem Jefries who spoke last year, know they need the support of me and you…literally, the hip-hop generation. I want to harness that power.
Whats the yearly process like for making the BKHHF happen?
Its tough. It’s a lot of work. People like to look at me, but I like to look at my team and staff that’s been here. Some cats have been down for eight years. Since were not trying to make as much money as possible, we have to get things donated as well as talent donated. Honestly doing an event in BK, in the city, were not like a Coachella, Bonaroo, or even Rock The Bells. They are not in the actual city. I understand why because it’s mad hard because of the permits, the city (government), and the NYPD. Thankfully Brooklyn Bridge Park and the local precinct been our biggest allies. A lot of hip-hop guys want to say fuck the police but not me, those dudes at that precinct have saved the festival more times than none because they understand what we are doing. It takes a lot of stress.
What is the significance of the Kickstarter and volunteering?
This is for us done by us. Its a bunch of hip-hop nerds coming together saying “let’s do a show WE want to see.” The people make this. I don’t make it. The sponsors don’t make it. The Kickstarters been so great with helping us stress a little less. You can go to your pops or your uncle, or I even have dudes I went to elementary school with that are saying, “I’m a stockbroker, I got paper, what do you need?” So now the kid in Farragut Projects who’s broke can go, because other people in the community shared.
What are your plans leading into the future?
The plan now is to grow horizontally. I don’t want to grow bigger and better and bring Jay-Z and Kanye to do Watch the Throne (although I’d love that). I want to be all over BK, like CMJ is in Manhattan. To where it could be at the Knitting factory, then have something else over here. I want to get more people to come to Brooklyn for the whole week, like I enjoyed New Orleans that week in 2004. So I just want to just spread out, and eventually take it on the road. Bring Brooklyn to Berlin or Tokyo.