Live Report: Smokin' Grooves

PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, New Jersey, July 26,1998

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.