The energy for that night had been building up for 25 years.
In 1987, the Paid in Full Album was released and helped start a new age in hip hop music. Up to that point, hip hop was rarely on the radio. It was an underground sound that filtered down out of the Bronx to dominate block parties and after hours clubs. It was a fad. It wasn’t real music. It wasn’t going to last.
In 2012, hip hop music dominates the pop charts and popular culture on every level. It has altered the American language. It has evolved into different sub genres and migrated around the world. Now there are Egyptian rappers making protest songs as the soundtrack to the Arab Spring. Hip hop artists own fashion houses, liquor companies and multibillion dollar sports franchises. At this point, a significant part of American culture is hip hop culture and artists like Rakim made that possible.
The people at Sutra’s Expo party last Friday grew up with songs like My Melody, Microphone Fiend and I Ain’t No Joke. They knew the words to Rakim songs in the same way that house heads know their anthems, jazz men know their standards and religious people know their scriptures. Even with the abrasive posturing and aggressive attitudes sprinkled into the crowd, the night felt more like a spiritual ritual and less like a musical performance. The crowd surged when he took the stage. They chanted the lyrics with him and strained to capture his image on their iPhones. I just took in the positive energy of the room that had been nurtured in New York City for 25 years.
I only got to talk to Rakim for a moment after his amazing performance. Hip hop groupies are dangerous ladies and I try not to get in their way. I thanked him for performing at the Expo and for everything his music has done for me personally and hip hop in general. He was gracious and cool with his response. He thanked me for remembering him and wanting him to perform. I laughed to myself when he said that. Considering the impact he has had on hip hop culture, nightlife culture and American culture who else would offer a better performance?