New Jersey Rutgers University Festival

...a tag-team pantomime of bluntz and beatz...

“No moshing, crowd-surfing, stage-diving, dangerous behaviour” threatens one sign. “No alcohol or illegal substances” warns another. It’s not the warmest of welcomes to Rutgersfest, a free outdoor all-day event with a 9pm noise curfew held annually in the playing fields of the suburban sprawl that is Rutgers, New Jersey’s State University, an hour’s drive from New York. And in case you didn’t notice the literature, the waddling giants from Punisher Security (T-shirt legend: ‘Enter At Your Risk’) are more than happy to help with any queries. If you’re brave enough to ask.

For the 10,000 or so crushed against the creaking security fence, this year’s Rutgersfest represents the homecoming of two of hip-hop’s superstars, [a]Method Man[/a] and [a]Redman[/a]. It’s the penultimate date on the blunt brothers’ month-long, States-wide Blackout 2000 tour, and given its proximity to Newark and Staten Island, it’s no surprise to find the stage invaded later by Wu-Tang affiliates Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna and Inspectah Deck. No surprise, either, because their gaudily decorated silver-bullet tour buses are parked backstage.

And just as there’s no mistaking local heroes the Outsidaz‘ windowless home-from-home (the bus with the cover of their ‘Night Life’ mini-album painted on the side), so the eight-strong Newark crew, as support to Red & Meth, ensure the crowd remembers their half-hour stint. Dishing out posters and T-shirts helps, while those down with the underground already know Outsidaz as a nine-year-old collective with close ties to Eminem and Rah Digga, whose members leant their rhyming skills to the Fugees‘ crossover hit ‘The Score’.

What matters to the uninitiated, though, like everything in the US, is Outsidaz‘ ability to entertain. With boy band professionalism, Pace Won, Young Zee, NawShis and co run across the stage and climb on to speakers, barking verses from ‘Don’t Look Now’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’, spraying water pistols and dissing the police. They’re like a pack of young dogs let loose, eager to please and hungry for success, but smart enough to realise that in this game, the show is an intrinsic part of the business.

Incredible though it is to see Red & Meth involved in something as organised as a conventional tour, that they take to the stage on time almost beggars belief. Theirs is a furiously energetic 45-minute blitz through their ‘Blackout’ LP, though it’s the pair’s bristling charisma and well-drilled double-act routine (“All the motherf–ers on the right say, ‘Yo!’!”) which places them in a different league to Outsidaz.

And it’s a circus. Joints are tossed from the crowd to their feet, Meth lights one up only for a policeman to make his presence known stage left. Someone unplugs the decks. A fight breaks out. Now Meth’s on top of a five-metre-high speaker stack. Now he’s in the crowd. And here come Outsidaz again. For 20 seconds. Then, one by one, Cappadonna, Inspectah Deck and Ghostface saunter on, taking turns on the mic, but it’s the beaming Ghostface who battles hardest and triumphs with the trashed, beat-bruised Motown of ‘Buck 50’ and ‘Cherchez Laghost’.

For all the traditional posturing and bragging, the crotch-grabbing machismo and cop-baiting banter, Outsidaz, [a]Redman[/a] and the assorted Clansmen offer unashamedly old-skool entertainment; a tag-team pantomime of bluntz and beatz. Expect the Hollywood blockbuster next summer.