By Mawuse Ziegbe
Puberty would not have been the same without LL Cool J. Honestly who was hotter than shirtless, lip-lickin’ LL in 1995? Coolio? Tag Team? Exactly. And yet when Estelle and LL Cool J took over Terminal 5 for the Grammy and T-Mobile tour I was not prepared for how totally phat it would be. Estelle was aiight – she was two-steppin’ and bitching about her ex-boyfriend – entertaining but all things I could see any sloshed slag do on a Saturday night. LL weaved through his 20-year-plus repertoire flexing to hits like “Doin’ It,” “Rock The Bells,” “Phenomenon,” “I Need Love,” “Headsprung,” and “Radio” with the energy and abs of a delusional MySpace MC. I spent much of the time jonesing for FUBU, Dunkaroos and general nineties awesomeness. So, mad props to LL and the booty-quaking potency of his def beats.
The Roots don’t score as many mainstream snaps as LL but they continue to prove their legendary status with events like the 2nd annual Roots Picnic. Following a typically grizzly Chinatown bus ride to the illadelph, I caught Antibalas’ fairly uninspired set. Philly’s own Santigold often relies on her fussy downtown b-girl look and heart attack-serious dancers to carry a performance. But she actually smiled and flicked her hair a bit more than usual through songs like “Find A Way,” “Unstoppable,” and “Say Aha.” Throngs of mall-accessorized girls thrashed along to “Creator” and Spank Rock made an anti-climactic appearance during “Shove It.” Kid Cudi led a chorus of tri-state area teenagers through his “A Kid Named Cudi” mixtape and pulled the ill Sexual Chocolate move, dropping the mic and walking off. A top-form Public Enemy went on at dusk. Flavor Flav’s screwy energy was reassuring, aging hip hop intellectual Chuck D skipped about in great physical form, and Professor Griff did flying kicks. Now that everyone’s so on the verge about their prez, PE’s anti-government rhetoric didn’t resonate as fiercely but backed by The Roots it was easily one of those “tell the grandkids” moments.
Hip hop proved its awesomeness once again the next day at Hot 97′s Summer Jam 2009. Falling in line with the droves of misbehaving teenagers from Jersey seemed like an excellent idea at first. When I noticed Flavor Flav (the very same from the previous day’s boho The Roots Picnic) amongst tailgating fans in the parking lot, I knew “excellent” was a major understatement. Mary J. Blige performed a bunch of songs spanning the history of her honey-blonde weaves from her “Just Fine” page boy to her bouncy “Real Love” spirals. Young Jeezy performed a set with special appearances from Jay-Z and TV paraplegic-turned-MySpace phenomenon Drake. The ensuing hysteria for his guest performers compared to the relative slacker clap for Jeezy was kinda awkward. T-Pain did a 20-minute set that was 20 minutes too long (not including the five minutes when Lil’ Kim surprised the crowd). And when Dipset took the stage, my low Jim Jones tolerance induced a hasty retreat back to Brooklyn. My favorite rappers don’t swath themselves in scarves, they rip their shirts off.