"We 'bout to get dark for a minute," Beanie Sigel warned the rambunctious crowd in New York City's SOBs Thursday night. "If you scared, say you scared. It's a exit over there."
Of course, no hip-hop fan would miss a moment this precious: weeks before he's to serve a two-year prison sentence for tax evasion, Beans celebrated the release of his fifth studio album This Time, dropping August 28th on the revamped Ruffhouse Records – the iconic Nineties hip-hop label responsible for classics like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. "I was sought out by [Ruffhouse CEO] Chris Schwartz," Beans explained to Rolling Stone after the show. "He believed in my movement, he believed in our flavor. We listened to the music and had a couple meetings. He believed in what I was trying to accomplish and goals that I had."
The night opened with rich sets from Denzil Porter and Ka, both New York scraps that boasted rich, menacing narratives of street tales from White Plains Road to New Lots Avenue. Porter filtered an authentic uptown edge through a smirking charisma – think Big L meets Big Sean: "If the cops lookin' at you sideways, start running especially if it's Friday/'cause on the Plains they ain't looking for a crime, they looking for overtime, even the cops know that crime pays." Ka, from the Brownsville public housing development in Brooklyn, warmed the crowd with gritty tales more in line with Beanie's trademark paranoia: "Is this gon' be the summer the cops get me/shots rip me, tryna' push whips off lots swiftly?" he pondered as 1970s documentary footage of New York gang violence looped behind him.
Despite the heavy New York presence, Philly was back on the map once Beanie hit the stage. Dressed in all black, Beans launched into a string of early hits from his reign with Rocafella, recalling more pleasant times when he was Jay-Z's right hand man, the first of many Philadelphia spitters Hov once championed as the future of rap. Sigel rattled through cuts like "You, Me, Him and Her," "Reservoir Dogs" and "Flipside" and put a throng of diehard Mack Mitten fans into a frenzy. On stage, a tag-along wore a t-shirt that said "Grind + Hustle = Grustle." A bottle of Hennessey swung in a fan's clutch.
Beans also saluted fellow Philly upstart Meek Mill, dancing to his summer anthem "House Party" during the middle of his set. "When I look at Meek I see myself reincarnated," he said later backstage. "When I came in the game I said 'Two decades and three years I'm still in order, I done stabbed sticks, killed bricks, drowned drops of water.' Meek said 'I'm only 23, look at me, I'm a boss.' So we was the same age coming into the game. I acquired a lot of things, accomplishments in the game in such a short period of time. Movies, clothing lines, sneakers. So advice I'd give to Meek is just to stay on top of his game because I didn't see an end to it, and everything must come to an end."
New material was scarce during the set, save a few impromptu verses spit a cappella to the crowd's delight. "The album will be out in two weeks, so I know it's gon' get bootlegged by next week," he said backstage. "That was my way of tweeting or facebooking or whatever they do." He also previewed bars from his latest single "The Reunion" featuring his old running mates State Property. "We had plans to do another State Property album, so we planned to launch that off my album with the new record 'The Reunion' to set up for the State Property album coming next," he said backstage. "Right now I'm trying to concentrate on the album I'm working on with Scarface called Mack & Brad."
Beans promises This Time is a special project, harking back to "when hip-hop was real." "Before, people was checking your background, you had to be who you said you was," he explained of the change he's observed in the culture. "Nowadays you could be a postman for 15 years and decide to start rapping and be the biggest drug lord in the rap game. I talk about not only what I see but what everybody sees every day. My hood ain't no different from any other hood, every other ghetto. That's where my music comes from."
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