The median age at Berkeley’s annual Hip-Hop in the Park Festival usually falls between 19 and 22, so if you’re over 25, you’re kinda standing on shaky ground from jump. You’ll know, for example, that when emcee Wonway Posibul of the Secluded Journalists shouts out “all the tenderonis” in the park, he’s probably not referring to you. Not to mention that if you’ve been involved in the insular Bay Area conscious hip-hop scene for more than, say, two years, there’s a very very good chance that the ghost of pimp past will rear its ugly head, even in this crowd of hundreds. After all, everyone in the 22-and-above bracket belongs to the same uncouth backpacker crowd that’s been coming here year after year after year, naively assuming that 9th Wonder beats and Che Guevara shirts and like, you know, the proverbial “four elements” will never quite lose their cachet.
(If you don’t know which four elements I’m talking about, don’t worry about it. But you should probably bone up on your hip-hop argot.).
Other things to watch out for:
1) People who think that stunna shades can be combined with such things as Birkenstocks, Cal Berkeley T-shirts, white-person dreadlocks, or Hot Topic paraphernalia, and still look cool
2) Praise dancing
3) The regular crowd at People’s Park, especially when they’re just trying to be “with it”
4) Breakdancing circles that devolve either into a capoeira roda or, like, you know, praise dancing
Otherwise, it’s well worth the price of admission. This year’s Hip-hop in the Park got off to a slow start, despite the infectious host Chinaka Hodge — better known as the associate program director of YouthSpeaks — who shouted out local celebrities like Weyland Southon and emcee Elefant from the Attik, who were drifting among the crowd of Cal students, homeless people, and, you know, a lone ice cream man. A rather desultory procession of rap acts ensued, including the Get Back crew (actually a pretty catchy duo who kind of got shafted by the opening slot), a passable rapper from Filmore who shouted out his MySpace page, a jam band called 4OneFunk that borrowed its set from the Isaac Hayes playbook, the Secluded Journalists, and emcee Jern Eye. Freestyle Fellowship’s P.E.A.C.E. livened the mood when he bumrushed the stage around 2:30 p.m. With his deep, primordial voice and nimble phrasing, P.E.A.C.E. inevitably raps better than whoever he’s ousted from the mic, which is why he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the local backpacker community. We’d encourage him to bumrush the stage more often, and in other venues. Like, why not bumrush the mic the next time Reggae Angels play at Ashkenaz? Please?
Other elements of the show — such as the breakdance cipher on People’s Park’s basketball courts, the (actually pretty amazing) live graffiti demonstration, and the political diatribes from people like Fred Hampton Jr. and a member of some socialist organization who bore uncanny resemblance to Mario Savio — diverted most people’s attention from the parade of not-exactly-cutting-edge backpacker rappers.
The mood shifted around 3 p.m. when emcee Radioactive took the stage with a toddler in his arms and delivered an absolutely breathtaking a cappella set that went by a little too fast to write down. He was followed by the bilingual Latino rap group Rebel Diaz, two Chilean guys whose parents had been exiled by Pinochet, a first-generation Puerto Rican woman who started rapping this year after more than a decade of singing in salsa bands, and a fly female DJ with a capoeira headwrap and faux designer sunglasses. They hyped up the crowd for emcee duo the Attik, who performed a lively set that included guest cameos from Ise Lyfe and a rousing freestyle over Rich Boy’s wonderfully slurry hit, “Just Bought a Cadillac.” A vast improvement over the well-choreographed but tepid shows they were doing at Shattuck Down Low a couple years ago, this was the kind of set that could bring conscious and ignorant together for a happy “Kumbaya.”
But the ultimate payoff was headliner Murs, who apparently goes out of his way to make questionable sartorial choices and fuck up his hair. Today he wore yellow and green high-top sneakers and dreadlocks sculpted into horns. Murs performed his usual offbeat songs about bungled and star-crossed love affairs, bragging that he’s the ideal friend with benefits — someone you can kick it with and fuck, resting assured that if you chanced to land in one of his songs one day, you actually wouldn’t mind. Midway through his set, Murs announced that he lost his virginity here in the Bay Area, and that after that he only wrote songs about girls (only a mild exaggeration). He rapped the beginning verses of “Silly Girl,” a song about being falsely seduced by some blueballs queen who eventually gets her comeuppance. He then did a Too $hort tribute based on a rhyme about the magical, mystical time that he lost his virginity (the “tribute” part happened whenever Murs uttered the word “broad,” encouraging fans to respond with a resounding “biatch”). Then Murs abandoned his rapper persona for a moment to talk about the reality of not getting laid.
“If you a real dude, you know you get shot down sometimes,” he admonished. His next rap was part humor, part self-flagellation, centering on the fallacy that:
1) Aw shucks, Murs is just a nice guy from Los Angeles. Why must he always get fronted on?
2) Nice guys from Los Angeles always get the ravaged coochie.
Points of contention both. But Murs got really deep in the muck, asking that every woman with a vagina go home and share it with somebody, because “you’re not gonna do nothing with it by yourself.”
Also a point of contention.
Then, as though he hadn’t quite driven the point home yet, Murs lip synched to Coldplay.
At the end of his set, Murs cut into some autobiographical numbers about being a geek kid in LA who loved Transformers (represent) and was utterly baffled by gang violence. He reminisced about riding the 51 bus (represent again) from Grouch’s mom’s house in Alameda to his job at Rasputin, where he apparently spent a good deal of time hustling tapes with fellow backpackers Hobo Junction and Kirby Dominant (who’ve since graduated from tapes to CDs), and Kometic Suns (RIP, thank god). Most of the crowd was probably too young to have those reference points.
Murs enjoined everyone to move from side to side, because damnit, he bought these beats from Ninth Wonder and they cost like a million dollars each. One homeless guy who’d apparently taken a shine to Murs showed his appreciation by shaking his hips and waving his styrofoam coffee cup. By the end of the set, Murs had delivered enough potentially offensive barbs to really liven up the mood, and nobody seemed to mind when he opened “Dark Skinned White Girls” (an ode to race traitors) with the explanation that it’s about those girls in the back of the bus holding the really cute babies. Ouch. When Murs rapped over the instrumental for Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None),” nearly everyone joined in on the chorus. Just like in campfire, he said.
One girl with Kathmandu jewelry got so caught up in the rapture that it looked like every molecule in her body was listing toward Murs. She started wiggling her hips in a disembodied, slow-motion way that looked suspiciously like praise dancing.