"Yo, it's a beautiful day and everybody feeling wonderful" - Dead Prez, Happiness
Dead Prez take the stage about half-way through Dave Chappelle's Block Party and the whole thing changes. M1 and stic.man have some real shit to say and as soon as The Roots start playing that beat for "Hip-Hop" the 5,000 people in front of the Broken Angel house put their hands in the air and start head-nodding. The audience in the theatre does the same. Until that time, I was just enjoying myself. Dave had cracked many a joke. The people he'd interacted with were all interesting and enjoyable. The connection all these folks, all who have been the soundtrack to my life for the past 13 years or so, was very pleasant to see but it was just a flick. A cool doc showcasing a very special, yet incredibly low key, event. 18 months before Kanye West would lead a drumline onto the stage at the Grammy's, he'd do it on a little strip of Quincy in Bed-Stuy. John Legend would sing out the chorus Jesus Walks on stage just a few months before anybody would really know who he was. Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Common would do what they do and I would sit in my seat in this small movie house in a Burbank mall and just smile.
But Dead Prez hits the stage and somehow I'm transported there. I no longer wanted to sit. I wanted to stand in the darkened theatre and chant along. I wanted to dance. At that point, I went from watching Block Party to feeling like I was at the block party and it couldn't have been better.
Well, that's sort of a lie. Maybe hanging out at the rehearsals the two days prior to the show would've been better. Hanging with Dave and Mos and ?uesto and Jill Scott and E.Badu and the rest as they cracked wise and vibed would probably sit pretty high on my "best days ever" list. The fleeting moments we see aren't quite enough.
And, as Anna notes, Jill and Erykah sharing the stage to sing the chorus of You Got Me is just all kinds of special.
I've seen all of these artists live before. Erykah Badu and Jill Scott both at the Greek here in LA (and Jill once in the House of Blues); The Roots so many times that I've stopped counting and Mos Def, Common, Kweli and Kanye West in some mixture together several times over the last 5 years. I've been to a Dead Prez show once, early in their career, and the set was way too short. The Fugees came to DC when I was in school and they were fun and energetic but not especially memorable.
This time they hit the stage and pretty much fuck it all up. Wyclef and Pras come out and do their thing but Lauryn is just a shadow of her former self. Her voice cracks. She forgets words. She looks uncomfortable. It's kind of heartbreaking because she's the shine. That she's lost some of that makes their headlining performance far less than the tipping point moment it should be.
But it doesn't take the shine off the film. Like Dead Prez says, "It's bigger than hip-hop."