What a strange, beautiful, bizarre night that was.
Friends, you know how I feel about the floor shaking monthly party known as Hip-Hop Karaoke. One could even accuse me of taking it too seriously, but when you care about something that much, it can make you a little crazy. So there was no way I was about to miss their 5th Anniversary party, featuring guest performances by Chip-Fu of the Fu-Schnickens and Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest.
Phife. Would be there. Tribe is like my Beatles, attendance was mandatory.
But as you know, I’m no mere spectator at these events friends. The five minutes I spend on the HHK stage are some of if not the best I experience in any given month, and I’ve earned my place among the heads and regulars who get up there and do the damn thing. So I knew I had to come with something special for the anniversary show.
Once you get comfortable with the idea of getting onstage in front of almost a thousand people, you find you have two options when it comes to song selection: pick a song for yourself, or a song for the crowd. The song for yourself usually runs the risk of being more obscure, but you’ll be more passionate about rapping it, and that comes across. As I once said before performing Jay Electronica’s ‘Exhibit C’, “This is for my real hip-hop heads. Which means there are six people in the building who know it.”
If you pick a song for the crowd, you probably don’t like it as much, but the energy you’ll get back from the audience will be like nothing you’ve ever heard.
So, after consulting with The Lady [who informed me I always pick songs that have always have a kick-kick-snare, kick-ki-kick-snare beat] I ultimately opted to do a song for the crowd, a song I thought was sure to keep the celebratory mood high: Naughty by Nature’s ‘Hip-Hop Hooray.’
The Naughty song was kind of a last minute choice, having picked it the Wednesday before the show [usually I like to have a song selected about three weeks in advance]. For the next two days, it was all I listened to, on repeat, hoping it would take hold via osmosis, because what people have forgotten over the last ten years is Naughty by Nature’s lyrics are frigging hard. Treach and Vinnie both have these rapid-fire, multirhyme flows, changing how they emphasize the same word to accomodate their flows. To wit:
I wanna know who you’re believing, with your funny reasons, even when I’m sleepin you think I’m cheatin’.
Here’s a thunder sound from the wonders found from the underground town down the hill feel how Illtown drowns smiles to frowns, snatches crowns from clowns, beat down so foul that homie don’t come around.
That shit is not easy to pick up in 48 hours.
The pressure only mounted when the hosts of HHK were asked by the CBC music blog to pick their most memorable moments from the last five years, and More of Les shouted out mine and The Lady’s duet of M.O.P.’s ‘World Famous,’ as one of his favourite performances. Stakes is high.
But a miraculous thing happened as I woke up on Friday morning: the song had finally taken root in my brain as muscle memory, and I was feeling good as friends and I got to Revival that night. Confronted with the sign-up sheet, my options were to either sign up in the first open spot and run the risk of kicking the night off, or bury my name in the 20th spot and run the risk of the crowd being spent. I took my chances with slot five.
After the third performer, the hosts took a moment to talk about the guests they had that evening. They mentioned Chip and Phife, then started talking about “special surprise guests in the building.”
“We got the whole Naughty by Nature crew up in the balcony!” And the crowd exploded, as my heart sank. Then this happened.
[Footage courtesy of HHK OG Gersh aka Geeflo]
So while that was going on, I was standing at the side of the stage thinking, It’s fine, you can just do a backup song, you really can’t hate if the people who recorded your song show up to perform it.
And then….they didn’t do it. Oh, they did the ‘hey, ho!’ bit from the chorus, but they didn’t perform the actual song. So I got the dubious honour of being the only person in the history of Hip-Hop Karaoke to do a song minutes after the song’s original artist left the stage. Thankfully the crowd was sympathetic to my dilemma and partied like Naughty was still on the stage, even if I did slur my way through some of the rhymes.
As for Phifey, he gave it the best he could, blowing through a series of Tribe hits, but a sudden and sharp drop of his blood sugar shortly after he hit the stage [his struggle with diabetes and the kidney transplant he underwent because of it is chronicled in last year’s ‘Beats, Rhymes and Life’ documentary] caused him to start and stop the show multiple times and leave the bulk of the rhyming to his hypeman and the crowd. I can’t front and say it was the experience I wanted from seeing a “Beatle,” but my concern for his health easily trumped any disappointment I could have felt. When it was all said and done, he still put on an hourlong show, and I still got to hear Award Tour and Scenario performed by the dude who recorded it. Short of a full-fledged reunion, I can’t really ask for much more than that. Footage from his performance below, apologies for the blurry phone footage.
Congrats to More or Les, Abdominal, DJs Numeric, Ted Dancin and Dalia for reaching the half-decade mark. You done fucked around and became an institution.
HHK:Toronto runs the third Friday of every month at Revival Nightclub.