You know hip-hop’s assault on mainstream culture is complete when
ultra-hip, white high-school girls define the demographic of an
all-rap festival date. At this year’s Smokin’ Grooves tour, now
wending its way through thirty dates of a jaunt across the U.S.,
such was the scenario. (Yes, folks, that is your thirteen-year old
daughter smoking a blunt and yelling “Go motherf—–!”)
As the cross-over popularity of the Smokin’ Grooves tour shows,
hip-hop reigns supreme. But like every good kingdom, this hip-hop
revolution needs a king. With a buffet of some of hip-hop’s most
recognizable names, including Public Enemy, Busta Rhymes and
Cypress Hill, this year’s’ Smokin’ Grooves tour makes one thing
clear: Wyclef Jean wears the royal crown.
There are few hip-hop acts basking in more mainstream appeal
than Wyclef and his Refugee All-Stars, but when it comes to
blending innovation and entertainment, nobody does it better than
Haiti’s favorite son. Jamming on his guitar, beat-boxing,
back-flipping across the stage-Wyclef does it all.
Rather than seize his share of the limelight to promote himself
and his Refugee Camp, Wyclef made a point of celebrating hip-hop’s
breadth. Mixing a little Cypress Hill and a crowd-pleasing guitar
rendition of Wu-Tang Clan’s”Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit”
in with his hits like “We’re Trying to Stay Alive,” “Gone ‘Till
November” and “Guantanamera,” Wyclef got the crowd dancing and
played the role of hip-hop ambassador to all ages and races.
And what would a king be without a court. Wyclef’s own knights
of the turntables-Pras, John Forte and Canibus, officially known as
the Refugee Navy Seals-provide enough entertainment for three
separate shows. From Pras’ mega-hit “Ghetto Superstar” to Canibus’
stage diving into the frenzied crowd, these loyal sidemen showed
exactly why the Refugee Camp is hip-hop’s first family when it
comes to showmanship and talent.
As for the rest of the day (with notable exception of openers
Black Eyed Peas and Gang Starr), cross-over pop hits like Cypress
Hill’s “Hand On the Pump” and Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where
My Eyes Could See” ruled. On the other hand, this rather routine
display filled with six hours of “throw your hands in the air blah
blah blah go, Jersey, go,” made one miss the Ziggy Marley/P Funk
kind of variety of the past two Smokin’ Grooves tours.
Rhymes successfully pumped up the crowd with wild kung-fu moves
and striptease antics, but his heavy-handed promotion of the
Flipmode Squad and their upcoming album grew tiresome. Cypress
Hill, stuck on repeat since 1993, served up their usual hits like
“How I Could Just Kill a Man” and “Hits From the Bong.” And
although it’s always amusing to see Flava Flav get stoopid with
“911 Is A Joke,” Public Enemy’s politics don’t quite hit the mark
with the new pre-teen, hip-hop fans from suburbia. Sorry, B-Real
and Chuck D, but the new school has arrived-and sorry, Puffy, but
you can call Wyclef sire.