Uncle Ralph’s Block Party : New York Uncle Ralph’s

KRS-One and Talib Kweli are among those rockin' Bedford Avenue...

“Brooklyn, are you ready? We’ve come to Rock Steady!” chants Kardinall Offishall, providing some West Indian warmth to the chilly mass. Before breaking into his own Jamaica via Toronto-tinged hiphop skank to reggae classics ‘Ring The Alarm’ and ‘Bam, Bam’, Offishall pays respect to the neighborhood hosting him: “Big up my people from Trini(dad), Tobego, Haiti… we going to take it to the islands!” Amid the gloomy clouds and tepid temperature, just above historical Ebbits Field, in the heart of the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn, people fill the streets as if it were hotter than July.

The occasion is at Uncle Ralph McDaniel’s 5th Annual Old School Block Party as the Video Music Box show creator hosts a stage outside of his Urban Gear store filled with unknown, emerging, and legendary artists. Teens loft jump shots at a mobile basketball hoop while others pick up some barbecue, finish laundry next door, and simply huddle together on the closed-off block of Bedford Ave. Some true hip-hop notables blending into the vibe include Buckshot of Black Moon, M1 of Dead Prez, DJ Premier, MOP and Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian.

As Touch set pace, some yet unknown local artists warm up including The Desperados, 50/50, and The Get Money Clique who wake the crowd by inquiring “Where Brooklyn at, where Cypress Hills at?” In need of a rise in energy to ward off goosebumps, Offishall introduces himself to the Borough with a rousing reggae intro leading into his bounceadelic anthem ‘Bacardi Slang’, which has the largely Carribean-descended crowd in a boogie. During his set a Jamaican flag waves off a firescape not 10 feet above the stage.

Things begin to bubble as McDaniels takes the stage, commends the crowd’s peaceful respect, then announces the show’s true surprise highlight as Jadakiss of The Ruff Ryders storms the mic in bright yellow and white velour suit along with fellow Lox member Styles. Tearing into his remake of Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’ things hit a frenzy. Jada follows with the first of several veiled snubs toward Brooklyn rhyme-king Jay-Z performing his rejected verse from R Kelly‘s remix for ‘Fiesta’ for which Jay-Z was chosen over him. Continuing to rock with ‘Jadakiss’, his inversion of Jay-Z‘s smash ‘Throw Your Hands Up’, with the chorus [I]”Fuck that, put your hands down”[/I]. Escalating a currently audio-only beef between himself and Roc-a-Fella he states mockingly “dead rappers get better promotion” before kicking an accapella rhyme vaguely veiled at an anonymous rapper too concerned with fashion and money as opposed to the life and neighborhood he came from.

Scoring huge points with the street crowd Kiss thankfully came with enough clever punchlines to keep things light and lively, including [I]”While you pop collars, we pop collarbones”[/I] and [I]”I’m like Suge Knight, y’all scared when my album come out”[/I]. “Jadakiss was off the hook,” said Oneil of Crown Heights while young friend Chad countered that Jada was actually “off the meter.”

Touch brought the event back to ground with a lively set of old-school jams such as Brand Nubian’s ‘Slow Down’, ‘It Takes Two’, Run DMC and Audio Two. Finally the event headliner, overseer and overall Hiphop Appreciation Week cultural statesman, blastmaster KRS-One took the stage to bring both bounce and knowledge as he has for almost 20 years. Imported from the Boogie Down Bronx, KRS spoke about hiphop’s universal theme of self knowledge and determination while condemning police brutality and black-on-black violence. With his trademark breakers doing routines behind him Kris Parker ripped through classics such as ‘Black Cop’, ‘Still #1’, ‘The MC’ and ‘Sound Of The Police’, ironically as many uniformed cops stood on duty in the distance not interfering with the day’s peaceful celebration. Denouncing materialism and pleading with the crowd and many young people to never betray their mind or fail to use it he stated in poem form snidely that the only diamonds he buys “are for my wife.”

Winding down, with most people now in shivers, Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli took the stage after his two background singers harmonized the classic soul anthem ‘There’s A Train Coming’. Preaching solidarity, Kweli asked all Africans in the audience to shout. When he got only a decent response he explained that “see, now understand, they have some of you forgetting where you come from” – he asked again for a shout and received a roar.

Maintaining fading embers of the late afternoon with his impassioned single ‘Move Something’ keeping bodies thawed. As the amplified echoes of his Blackstar smash ‘Definition’ rose up the hill on Bedford Avenue children in t-shirts set up in the middle of the closed-off block for a scooter race as, rain or shine, hiphop ruled free for a day.

Tom Constabile