When you hear of certain events about to transpire, a whole other level of anticipation is sparked. While some shows profess classic lineups, the HIP HOP FEVER 2022 at Lehman College brought back the feel of late ’70s, the infancy of hip hop. At that juncture stacked superstar laden lineups would bring packed houses to venues such as the T Connection, Ecstasy Garage, the PAL (on Webster Avenue) the Hoe Avenue Boys or Harlem World. That feel permeated amongst a few that were milling about awaiting entry, and while there the question of who was gonna shut down the show arose. The consensus of the small congregation went to the home team!
Can’t front, I felt validated as that was how I felt. In the vein of a true Bronxian the showstopper as they always will be hometown heroes SCORPIO and MELE MEL of the Furious Five plus Grandmaster Flash!! While the sentiments may be a little biased, facts are facts. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious were the BAR when there was no BAR. They created and set the standard for a hip hop group as well as EMCEE excellence. Since we had no fanzines or social media, we never got a chance to know and understand the group makeup, so I went to one of the sources to get a proper understanding. Said Mele Mel a few days before the show, “We said it in rhymes, he was so nice with his hands he don’t need no band. He was innovative with his cuts, and he did introduce the Beat Box live. Scorpio was the King of Finesse he was the first emcee to have what we call now SWAG. Me and my brother Kid Creole were the classic rhymers. Rahiem was the up and comer we needed to expand our audience. He had the hunger and was a great emcee. Last he said, ‘Cowboy was the best rapper we had and was the heart and soul of the group. He had the voice the girls loved and was a total crowd controller.’” Melding their talents with hard work made them the standard bearers in the streets and then came the unexpected; rap performances made it to wax. An outlet tailor-made for the group. “We tried to make our shows as entertaining as possible, we had uniforms, dance steps, routines and harmonies in our performances and we were well rehearsed. When we hit the studio, it was like a second home. We were prepared, all we had to do was execute,” he said.
With all the ingredients in place success was imminent if the right material came along. “The dynamic of the group changed when we became professional recording artists. We were still great emcees, and I started concentrating on actual songs,” Mel shared. For a perspective, if rap was a genre that was embraced since its inception by the industry, every year since 1979 the Furious Five would have been in contention for RAP song/record of the year at every major award show. “Superrappin,” “Freedom,” “Birthday Party,” and “It’s Nasty” showed the separation of what authentic emcees were. In 1982 however the game changed forever with the release of “The Message.” (Wow, that’ll be 40 years this summer)
Ready or not that piece of work placed a level of responsibility that the BEST of the BEST had to aspire to. “That record turned hip hop into a grown man,” Mel emphatically stated. To think, if the group had their druthers, it wouldn’t have been made. Not one of the groups on the label felt the track but Mel was willing to take a chance. While the showmanship was intact the group realized more was needed to make that transition from hood celebrities to superstardom. Enter the producer, Sylvia Robinson, who provided the coaching and guidance. “We had one of the best producers in MUSIC, not just hip hop, MUSIC! She was able to hear things that we didn’t and was able to give us direction because she was winning. Timing is everything and Mrs. Robinson understood that. Nobody thought the record would do anything, but she knew and believed.” He continued, “After the song was recorded it took 72 hours to get the exact mix that she wanted including the time. She wanted it to be 7 minutes and 11 seconds.” The rest was literal history. That was the record that gave Mele Mel international and immortal clientele. So far, the major plaudits are:
“The Message” was No. 5 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop”
“The Message” becomes the first recording by a rap act to be inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
No. 51 on the Rolling Stone Top 500 songs ever list.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five become the first rap act to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five 2021 Grammy Lifetime Achievement award winners.
Per Mel it was a team effort. He continued in her praise with, “She was responsible not only was the record that brought hip hop to the forefront (‘Rappers Delight’) but also the record that changed music. Nothing has surpassed the importance of those two records.”
Any question as to who gets top billing? We have to bring it back full circle. Especially now since it’s becoming evident that the music that saved a generation is now being weaponized to destroy a generation. “Over history Black people have always been on the side of what was morally correct, we ain’t that right now. As total adults for a DJ to even play some of that is not the right thing to do. As a grown man any chance I get to bring it back I have to, so people can understand what the true essence of Hip Hop IS and WAS. That’s why shows like HIP HOP FEVER is important. We need you to uphold and uplift our work, so we can uphold and uplift the culture,” he concluded.
Going into the venue it looked as if ticket sales were healthy, but there were still quite a few that were lined up at the box office to gain entry to hear the best sounds in creation. Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records assembled a lineup (aside from newcomer PLAYGIRL ARI) that at one point in the music timeline had a season in the sun. The HIP HOP FEVER 2022 concert featured performances by SLICK RICK, NICE ‘N SMOOTH, ROB BASE, BRAND NUBIAN, BLACK SHEEP, ROXANNE SHANTE, SWEET G and GRANDMASTER CAZ, of the Cold Crush Brothers. Legends DJ HOLLYWOOD and the inventor of the scratch technique GRAND WIZARD THEODORE manned the wheels of steel, and it was hosted by documentarian, historian and creator of Video Music Box RALPH MCDANIELS. The crescendo of the night was the Sugarhill Gang / Mele Mel and Scorpio segment. Yeah, the Furious Five members maintained the same energy that they had when they appeared a few train station stops from the nearby 4 train at the original Disco Fever which was as expected. What was a pleasant surprise was just how popular the catalog of the Sugarhill Gang remained and/or became. “7th Wonder,” “Apache,” and Grandmaster Caz reciting the verses he composed that were used by Sugar Hill Gang member Big Bank Hank on “Rappers Delight,” still rocked the house til the break of dawn.
This concert also was a dedication to Ruben Diaz Jr. for his outstanding contributions to the hip hop community in the Bronx and his support of the arts at Lehman Center. Ruben Díaz Jr. represented his hometown and the people of The Bronx for more than two decades. The Lehman College, City University of New York, graduate served over three terms as the Bronx borough president. He no longer holds the position, but he did mention that the funds and the plans for a physical Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx is still on course.
Next up at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West, Bronx is a tribute to another historic era in Black music as they present the show “Motown with a Twist,” a dancing-in-the-street night of Motown’s electrifying music set to twists and shouts! On Saturday, May 7, 2022, at 8 p.m., “Motown with a Twist” will feature special guest musicians from the Motown era along with pros from “Dancing with the Stars,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “American Idol” and “The Voice,” all accompanied by a live band. Tickets for “Motown with a Twist” on Saturday, May 7, 2022, at 8 p.m. ($50, $45, $35, $25) can be purchased by calling the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 (Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and beginning at 4 p.m. on the day of the concert), or through online access at https://www.lehmancenter.org/motown. Lehman Center is accessible by #4 or D train to Bedford Park Blvd. and is off the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Major Deegan Expressway.
Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.