“After nine years, I had much higher expectations,” declared dead prez’s M1 on August 13 at the ninth annual Black August benefit show. “I wanted to celebrate more victories.” While the audience appeared to be in agreement that much more had to be done to advance the causes of exiles, freedom fighters and victims of injustice worldwide, the festive atmosphere at B.B. King’s remained placid. As a slide show featuring images of political prisoners such as Assata Shakur and George Jackson played in the background, a line-up of some of hip-hop’s finest came out to support victims of Hurricane Katrina and the wrongfully imprisoned Angola 3.
The show opened with DJ Evil Dee bemoaning the state of modern hip-hop, sparking nostalgia with a set of golden era classics like Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin’.” While the Beatnuts were scheduled to appear first, JuJu was a mysterious no-show, forcing Psycho Les to hold down the set solo. Though classic ’Nuts cuts like “Off tha Books” had heads nodding, the party-hardy “Give Me tha Ass” was ill-suited for the occasion. Veteran CL Smooth stepped on the stage with cool restraint, calmly gauging the audience before demanding, “Don’t come to me cloudy,” a request the crowd happily obliged as it recited songs like “Straighten It Out” word-for-word. Next up were Brand Nubian’s Sadat X and Lord Jamar, who finished their animated set strong with the crowd pleaser “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down,” and brought out Poor Righteous Teachers to share the spotlight.
After galvanizing the crowd with his spirited call to the resistance movement, M1 sent fists flying in the air to the revolutionary crunk of “Hip Hop.” The conclusion of M1’s set proved the most fitting time to introduce prominent ex-Black Panthers like Ashanti Alston, who was visibly moved as he thanked those in attendance for keeping the cause of Black empowerment alive.
Despite the double thrill of hearing these legendary acts and seeing freedom fighters in the flesh, after the interlude the audience was still in need of an adrenaline rush. Immortal Technique, who spit a righteous acappella freestyle that catapulted the crowd into a frenzy, provided the necessary boost. Properly amped for the mysterious “surprise” portion of the show, the audience screamed in delight as Talib Kweli sprang on stage in a crisp baby blue Lacoste shirt and a white fitted that stood in stark contrast to the dominant hues of red, black and green. Wardrobe aside, Kweli’s adept performance of tracks like “Definition” and the new single “Listen” showed the Brooklyn MC on top of his game.
Evil Dee kept the spot alive between sets, but even the Motown spirit of his block party spins couldn’t stop the mature crowd from growing tired four and a half hours into the show. By the time The Roots hit the stage, heads were visibly fighting to show appropriate levels of enthusiasm. That all changed when Kirk Douglas erupted into a virtuosic electric guitar solo, offering up his instrument in sacrifice as a grand finale to a very special evening.