Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pitchfork '07: The Hip-Hop Rundown

by: Jeff Min

On Friday, July 14th I jumped on the bus, eagerly anticipating my arrival at Union Park for the Pitchfork Music Festival. I had everything with me: press pass, voice recorder, camera, extra batteries, and a bottle of water (which I sipped sparingly in order to avoid the disease traps known as port-a-potties.) During the bus ride, I organized the day’s performances into maybe’s, possibly’s, and must see’s in order to fully maximize my time at the festival. This year, the lineups were no less than jaw dropping; with the Hip-Hop acts topping my to-see list. As the bus approached Union Park, I instantly became transfixed by the vast communities of people drawn together by the gravity of ‘good’ music. Every face told a story of genuine excitement and as I jumped off the bus and walked towards the entrance gates, with each step I slowly became one of those faces.

Day 1 was simple: do whatever it takes to get front and center for GZA’s performance of the Liquid Swords album. I weaved, dodged, and occasionally strong-armed people to nab my spot. There was absolutely no way I would miss the performance of an album that soundtracked the better part of my high school days. Geeked by my good positioning, I couldn’t help but engage in conversation with the people around me. Some came from as far as D.C. others were just local cats, but together we were all just fans excited to witness something truly special. As my new found friends held down my spot, I ventured to the press tent to grab some water. As I approached the tent my eyes slowly zeroed in on two people: one was a squirrelly looking hipster, who turned out to be an interviewer for Vice magazine, and the other was the GZA. Immediately I began taking pics while listening to the interviewer launch boring and repetitive questions that could only be countered with robotic answers. Unable to take anymore of his mediocrity, I moved in as uncomfortably close as possible in order to break up the interview. Surprisingly enough, my jack move worked. Before asking my first question, I realized there wasn’t enough time to conduct a full interview, so I decided that a casual conversation would suffice. My goal was to gain insight into the persona of the ‘real’ GZA, and when I re-listen to our conversation, it sounds more like a back-and-forth between two frustrated Hip-Hop fans rather than a typical interview. I’ll never forget these GZA quotables, “Mainstream Hip-Hop is so watered down and so weak, and I have been doing Hip-Hop since I was a kid, so to see Kanye, Common, and Lupe do the things they’re doing is refreshing; to see them steer Hip-Hop back where it needs to be.” Returning to the stage after a surreal meeting with the GZA set me up for what I imagined would be an unforgettable show.

The GZA’s entrance on stage was extremely humble, and after a quick shout out to his fans he slid right into Liquid Swordz title track, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Some fans went line for line with the GZA, while others franticly waved their hands in the air. Next up was “Dual of the Iron Mic” which featured verses from special guest Cappadonna. Cap’s energy combined with the GZA’s calm demeanor, which in turn created a sly chemistry that the audience couldn’t help but appreciate. “Living in the World,” “Gold,” and “Cold World” went smoothly and as this was quickly becoming the throwback performance of the year, the DJ fumbled, and halted the show. GZA had to stop the set twice to give the DJ time to get his bearings straight. The whole fiasco boiled over when Cap stepped in and demonstrated how to fade between tracks, an embarrassing scene to say the least. The crowd never fully recovered from the DJ’s missteps and as a result, the energy began to diminish. It seemed to have hit a nerve with GZA and his body language told a tale of frustration. Both Cap and Killah Priest did their best to get back on track, and the performance rounded out nicely with “B.I.B.L.E.” and a few tracks off of Wu’s Iron Flag. Overall the show received a C+ from this reviewer with a majority of the blame resting on the confused DJ, but what really hurt the performance was an extremely annoying camerawoman. She stood in the press pit for the entire show, blocking the view of at least ten people. As GZA left stage and the Sonic Youth show began, I looked forward to the Saturday performance by the Cool Kids.

I’ve heard the story of how the Cool Kids met on MySpace and how their mixtapes have taken the online / underground world by storm, but without ever seeing them perform live I remained skeptical. The buzz has always been constant about the duo being heirs to the Chicago So who exactly are the Cool Kids? Are they Hipsters? According to them, the answer is No, but their audience demographic speaks differently, so I waited patiently to see what all the hype was about. underground, but it doesn’t take an eagle eye to spot the hipster community and their trend humping ways.

Cool Kid #1 Chuck strutted smoothly onto the stage, sporting the most fly 80’s gear I’ve seen in a while. His showmanship was confident as he got the crowd waving their hands from side to side. The levels of the music were set extremely low and people began to shout “Turn it up!” which never happened. This forced me to ‘squint’ my ears in order to catch the lyrical content. It didn’t take long for me to realize that their verses weren’t worthy enough to be considered quotable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the Cool Kids, but I wouldn’t expect a life changing experience from their rhymes. Simply stated, they’re two kids with a non-threatening, club rap sound and lyrics tailor-made for Chicago’s hipster massive. I want the Cool Kids to succeed; I really do, because the energy of Chicago’s youth so much greater than NY or LA. What their Pitchfork set showed me was how much Chicago Hip-Hop has changed. The Chicago Crossing off another ‘must see’ off my list, I wondered how crazy the final day of the festival would be with De La Soul as a closer. underground sound is three dimensional in every aspect and even though the Cool Kids may not appeal to true schoolers, one cannot deny their stage presence, a D- performance with A+ crowd control. But based on a sub par performance, I’m hesitant to jump on their bandwagon; instead I’ll wait until the hipsters find another trend to hump, in order to witness how great the Cool Kids can be.

On day 3 I disregarded other acts and floated around the main stage waiting for the right time to sneak up front for De La. By this time a crowd had began to form around the nucleus that my new found friends and I created, and everyone was rumbling with anticipation.

Just as symptoms of restlessness began to show, Mase got the crowd hyped for what would end up being the most engaging performance of the festival. Before I knew it, thousands of fans were bobbing their heads at a breakneck pace to “Ego Trippin’.” Posdnuos started off his verse with a bang and once Dove appeared, Union Park was thrown into a whirlwind of cheers. With a brief interlude Pos and Dove divided the crowd into two halves for a debate over which half was the party side, making their respective ovation the determining factor. De La does this shtick at all their concerts, and every time is works perfectly, prompting the crowd to scream for more. Taking full advantage of the crowd’s energay, Mase dropped the beat for “Grind Date”. The barrier at the front of the stage could barely contain the first row, and just as I turned my head to prevent my hat from being thrown off, I saw the most non-Hip-Hop-looking girl screaming every line to the song. This performance was truly something special.

Giving the crowd a breath, De La charmed us with their rehearsed yet refreshing banter, which asked if they could bring a guest out. At first I thought MF Doom for “Rock Cane Flow”, then I thought Common for “The Bizness” and before I could make another guess Prince Paul emerged from backstage. After a brief introduction, they trio segued into “Pass the Plugs,” flashing everyone back to the beginning of De La’s cutting edge career. Mid-set, De La dropped a James Brown tribute and the cheers from the crowd seemed never ending. By far the most intriguing moment came during “Me, Myself, and I” where Pos subtly stated, “We hate this song.” Not many people understood or even heard his comment, so Pos explained that the top 40 hit defined De La for so long, even after their art went transcended “3 Feet High and Rising.” But they didn’t dwell on the past for too long, and the show continued with songs off of nearly every De Le album. Towards the end of their set, Dove and Pos made the clear distinction between the true fans in the crowd and the VIP “snobs” that sat back stage. It was a funny moment, and no one was visibly offended, but it made us in the front row feel just a little more important than those relaxing backstage.

With the last beat sounding around midnight, Pitchfork concluded with a booming ovation; not only for De La, but for every musician involved in this annual festival. As I headed back to the bus, faces blended with the incoherent chatter, emitting a positive vibe for everyone to enjoy later. With each step, I either kicked a piece of trash, a trinket, or piece of memorabilia, and slowly the meaning behind the festival became clear. Pitchfork: an amazing feat of comradery, art, and expression that only Chicago can host.


princess of the poem: Desdamona said...

peace. wondering if you're looking for more projects to review. If so, let me know where I can send my latest release.

until then, you can check me at:



Thu Sep 20, 09:27:00 PM CDT  

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