February 4th, 2008: MLK Weekend
By Mawuse Ziegbe
This column is kicking off at the top of Black History Month and what better way to usher in February than with a bunch of celebrations in honor of that great orator and organizer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a student, MLK weekend often means a wave of essays, lectures, symposia and even pageants commemorating his legacy. As an about-town 20-something in NYC it often means spending Sunday night shearing rugs at crowded venues throughout the city.
Dante's Fried Chicken is a celebration with a very simple premise: sizzle up sumptuous eats and dish them out to the too-cool Scenester / Afro-punk / Post-Black / Neo-New Wave community. I was brazenly underdressed, what with my lack of designer leggings in eye-searing colors and baroque approach to accessorizing, but it is always encouraging to the see the cool kids do their thing. At Supreme Trading in Williamsburg, a much hyped fashion show took a few hours to materialize but not before some unforgettable performances hit the stage. One lanky crooner took the stage in a waxy patent leather overcoat, mumbling some curious couplets about tea. There were some spot-on acts like J. Zilla who hit hard with attitude-laced electro and booty-shakin' prodigy, Rye Rye, fresh off well-received appearances with M.I.A., who brought the crowd to its hype apex. After struggling through the dense mob that enveloped the food table, I finally got to taste Dante's famed chicken which was most satisfying indeed.
Next I dropped by Meatpacking's dance haven Cielo to check out Norman Jay and DJ Spinna at Giant Step's MLK Weekend bash. DJ Spinna dropped soulful house throughout the night, blending left-field remixes with classic foot-stompers. I got there a bit early while worldly power broker-types calmly milled about while a few downtown dance heads unleashed their footwork on the sparsely populated dance floor. But about 20 minutes later, the momentum bubbled up during the raucous ebb and flow of Fela Kuti's "Zombie" which was woven into some sweaty James Brown funk. Ultimately the blithe energy of tracks like "Another Star" by Stevie Wonder really made the night.
Later at B.B. King's, The 5-year anniversary of the Friday night weekly, The Freedom Party, with DJ Herbert and DJ Cosi sharing deck duties, was all about Black (music) history. Like some interactive hip hop lesson, a parade of Golden Era-hip hop stars burst out of the wings and showered the crowd with dizzying energy and memorable melodies. After Chubb Rock warmed up the crowd, Bronx duo Nice & Smooth got heads a-noddin' with well-worn hits like "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow" and their verses from Gangstarr's 1992 classic "DWYCK." And in a moment straight out of 1992, Positive K bumrushed the stage and bounded through a verse of his hit "I Got A Man." Then one of the demigoddesses of freestyle music, Lisa Lisa, took to the mic. She brought back school dance memories with flirty numbers like, "I Wonder If I Take You Home" and "Let The Beat Him ‘Em." She also brought back break-up memories as the crowd swayed to her epic power ballad, "All Cried Out."
At 3AM, just as I was ready to pack up my heels and wander back home, hip hop icon Slick Rick majestically sauntered on stage, weighed down under a gargantuan amount of gold rope chains. With his laidback cadence, he casually launched into "La Di Da Di" until another figure lumbered on stage and a roar erupted from the audience. I tried to keep from fainting as Biz Markie started beatboxing with Slick Rick.
I woke up on Martin Luther King Day more tired than in previous years but also with a bit more perspective. Yes, of course, the parties are thrown because most kids don't have school or work the following day. Still, if one figure can have Black artists from punk to house to hip hop music, pulling out all the stops, it's a freedom that we all should be grateful for.