“Brooklyn’s where the realness at,” proclaimed Pusha T midway through his headlining set Saturday. “Can I speak some realness?”
Plenty of that realness was on tap for the ninth installment of the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, a tribute to the genre and its culture at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The fest, which was produced by the Brooklyn Bodega initiative and has hosted the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye West in previous years, battled through jumbled performance times and bouts of rain to offer a lineup crammed with talent. While a few out-of-towners hit the stage, most of the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival bill was a conscious salute to the home turf that was being celebrated.
The fest kicked off with an afternoon built around hyperlocality and DIY hustle. Crown Heights native Dillon Cooper shredded through 15 minutes of cuts from his Cozmik mixtape, a debut that features everything from classically-trained guitar to Mobb Deep samples. Funk ensemble Soul Understated channeled a wealth of Hip Hop favorites, highlighted by a jazzed-out rendition of The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly,” while Beast Coast associate and Phony Ppl captain DyMe-a-Duzin tiptoed the line between nerd swagger and hardcore Brooklyn roots. “I’ve played this song all over the world, and everyone acts like they’re from Brooklyn that night,” laughed the 20-year-old emcee while hyping his “New Brooklyn” finale. The song never got its homecoming though, with DyMe’s set spilling over the strict time limit.
BKLYN STICKUP frontman and Flatbush native Danse Daimons was charged with livening up the audience after the awkward cutoff, while F.Stokes rounded out the local portion with his single “Carpe Diem” and two fierce acapella freeverses. As dedicated fans and curious ears tuned in to the sets, others wandered around the strip of booths that included free samples, soul food and, to everyone’s delight, Spike Lee, who snapped photos while promoting his 40 Acres production company. Lee later took the mic to raise awareness for the skyrocketing levels of violence in Chicago, but left by cracking jokes at some of the Brooklyn faithful. “Some of y’all Knicks fans made the change real quick,” he jabbed to those in attendance rocking Nets gear. “That’s some shenanigans.”
Dizzy Wright took the stage next as the rain cleared up, a discernible departure from the rest of the acts in terms of both following and origin. The XXL freshman and Funk Volume associate sounded on-point to his acclaimed 2012 mixtape, Smokeout Conversations, while throwing in a few nods to hometown Reno, Nevada. Wright was followed by a deejay tribute set to the late MCA, spun by DJ Enuff.
Headliners kicked off just after 5 p.m. with Redman going first and opening with “Da Rockwilder” to a raucous reception. The 43-year-old shaved two decades off his age with an energetic performance, rifling through everything from “Time 4 Sum Aktion” to cuts from he and Method Man’s Blackout! series. “This ain’t just a concert,” he told the fest, “this is a seminar.” The history lesson included Redman’s admission of crashing a car on his way to the show, a claim that he remembers “nothing” from his ‘94 LP Dare Iz a Darkside, and of course, a whole lotta weed. “I need How High 2 as much as you guys need How High 2,” he said before running into the crowd and hoisting atop a security guard to do a finale.
Despite touting a catalogue that’s all “business,” legendary duo EPMD kept the level of fun right where Redman left it, even bringing him back for a performance of “The Head Banger.” All the hits were covered, but there was plenty of time for Erick Sermon and PMD to remind folks that they were “doing this shit before Shady or Baby.” EPMD took a breather to let DJ Scratch experiment on the ones and twos, and after he sounded the buzzing horns of M.O.P.’s “Ante Up,” Brownsville soldier Lil’ Fame came out for a surprise performance.
The night ended with Pusha T, an admittedly conflicting headliner. The Virginia Beach native was spearheading a Brooklyn festival that celebrated neighborhood flavor and local culture; he was coming on to do major-label coke rap after previous headliners consisted of De La Soul, Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip. Opening with his verse on the remix of Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like” seemed to negate the poignant message Spike Lee preached just a few hours before.
Yet Pusha showed off his street-savvy rhymes with no shortage of energy or gratitude for the borough hosting him. Though he omitted Clipse favorites like “What It Do” and “Mr. Me Too,” the G.O.O.D. Music affiliate promoted his upcoming album with singles “My God,” “Numbers on the Boards” and “Blocka.”
“I’ll have the hardest album of the year, you best believe that,” Pusha told the crowd. “I don’t care who drops.” His debut solo LP, My Name is My Name, is due next month.
Though Pusha T didn’t represent BK to the fullest, this year’s headliner still embodied the hustle and spirit of loyalty that the festival is all about. Pusha’s 7:45 finish capped a day of all-around great hip-hop. Those who stuck out the weather were handsomely rewarded, while those looking to celebrate Bucktown had ample opportunities to do so.