You aiight? You sure? The way you been movin’ lately leads me to believe otherwise. A lot of shapeshifting you pulling. So much so we need to ask you directly, do you remember where you came from? Better yet, did you ever know? It’s blatantly noticeable that when it’s celebratory (spotlights, cameras, action, award shows) you’re called multicultural. When you’re at the cool table, getting lauded for your stature, how many people there look like you now, let alone from your inception? Flipside, to when things get ugly. Courts, prisons, and morgues are involved. Coincidentally enough, people who look like your creators are there solely to be demonized and ostracized. 

Enough. This is not working. To know you is to love you, and with love you can have open and brutally honest discussion even if it means severing ties. That’s kinda where I stand now. Perhaps you need to hear from another voice, in another manner. Enter Chris Robb. Robb has parlayed his multi-instrumentalist skill set into a successful career as a singer, songwriter, and producer. Formal training as a child was augmented with the inspiration of hip hop music. “Hip hop was a gateway to all the other forms of music that I do. Funk, soul, jazz; I learned about through what was going on in that golden era of music,” says Robb. 

As a musician, he sees your eternal beauty through a different lens, sans the politics, controversy, or economics, just the art. It was that motif, using the Blue Note stage as a conduit that Rob revealed his heartfelt expression with his “Open Letter to Hip Hop.” That 90-minute trip down memory served as a powerful reminder of what the marriage of beats and rhymes can provide for the soul. In a live intimate setting emcees like Tiye Phoenix, Punchline and Lord Finesse can step up and groove improvisational style that harkened back to the turntables and mic days of the parks. Featured EMCEES Grand Puba dipped into his Brand Nubian bag with “Step To The Rear” and glided over what he deemed a sexy, reworked version of his solo smash “I Like It (I Wanna Be Where You Are.)” CL Smooth closed the show with a fuller, richer rendition of one of greatest songs in hip hop history, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” that if you listen carefully, you can probably still hear the horns blaring in and around West 4th Street.  

As a standalone, the music in and of itself was worth the price of admission. Nahh, it ran a little deeper if you were on that frequency. Any musical tribute to hip hop should include not just the songs that charted on the rap charts. Two profound segments paid homage to the very pillars of where we currently stand. The band launched into a full version of “The Boss” and during a drum solo you’d pick up on “You’ll Like It Too.” Staple pieces of work that contributed to the overall hip hop lifestyle. When altered that the homage was noted, Robb offered, “The yin and yang of James Brown and George Clinton in hip hop particularly throughout the Golden Age and beyond, was crucial to the music becoming much more than a passing phase. While James Brown was inspiring producers like Marley Marl & DJ Premier to drive the East Coast sound, Parliament-Funkadelic found themselves in the mix largely on the West Coast in Dr. Dre & Shock G productions. Of course, they overlap here and there, but it was this movement that took hip hop much more mainstream and, in a sense, helped the music become more appreciated beyond younger listeners. Now the music was in 3D. No more 808s and splashes of keyboards and rock guitars. Now the music was straight funk with the heavy drums rockin underneath. Now the parents could relate to the sound because their soundtrack was in the mix.”

He continued, “Of course, you can see the showmanship from James Brown with rappers like Big Daddy Kane and MC Hammer, as well as tightness of his band influencing the Roots, among others. Parliament had a second coming through Digital Underground’s take on them. These gentlemen became legends in a whole new era of music because hip hop leaned on them to lay the soundscape for their latest creations.”

The vibe continues next weekend as for one unmissable night, NJPAC unites some of the leading voices in jazz, hip hop and poetry. The legendary lineup includes hip hop royals Rakim, Speech, and Chuck D along with award-winning poets and spoken word performers Nikki Giovanni, Jessica Care Moore, Mayor Ras Baraka, and The Last Poets; saxophonist Javon Jackson and Musical Director Christian McBride at the 11th Annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. Contact or 888.GO.NJPAC (888-466-5722) for tickets.

Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.

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