by Steven Pisano
(All photos by Steven Pisano.)
The message to the audience at Brooklyn Bowl for the Rap Reunion on July 28 was that hip hop music in the 1990s was more socially conscious than it is today, with something to say beyond just bling, babes, and bennies. Again and again, the performers who took the stage rammed home the point that politics and social commentary is where hip hop began, and that in some ways the music had lost its way over time, focusing more on celebrity and the high life. But mostly, the show was nostalgic for the old days the Eighties and Nineties, when Queens reigned as one of the rap centers in the country, whether in Queensbridge (Nas) or Hollis (LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C.) or St. Albans (A Tribe Called Quest), though the borough would ultimately be eclipsed by the rappers from Brooklyn and the West Coast.
The evening's headliner, Rahzel (born Rahzel M. Brown), is a former member of The Roots known for his prowess as a human beatbox—in particular, his ability to beatbox and rap at the same time. Throughout the evening, he told stories of how things used to be back in the day, such as his wariness whenever he and his crew went to Brooklyn, not wanting to show off their jewelry.
In a nod toward the future, the emcee’s son Rahzel Jr. started off the show with his song “The Culture.” Professing his love for hip hop culture, he rapped: “I don’t do it for the fortune or fame, I do it for the culture."
The highlight of the evening was The Large Professor (born William Mitchell), a celebrated hip hop producer who has worked with Nas, Eric B & Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, and others. He was mesmerizing out from behind the mixing boards with a mic in his had, like a college professor rapping out a lecture to his students. I definitely wanted to sign up for his next class.
Sadat X (born Derek Murphy) was a member of the early Nineties group Brand Nubian, which rose out of New Rochelle. Today, he is an elementary school teacher there, which you might even guess from the way he raps to the audience, seeking to teach and guide them, rather than just entertain.
Wrapping up the night, and sporting a t-shirt that read "Don't Pass Trump the Blunt," was legendary hip hop producer and DJ Pete Rock (born Peter Phillips). Born in the Bronx but raised mostly in Mount Vernon, Pete Rock is particularly known for fusing jazz into the early sounds of hip hop, although he has worked with the likes of Kanye West as well. After a 4-plus hour show, Rock steered the audience back to the present and left them snapping his picture.
(More photos can be found here.)