My party arrived at Paid Dues in time to catch the very end of People Under the Stairs’ set. In a testament to their live show, I was immediately hooked within 30 seconds of walking into the arena and seeing them live onstage and was crushed we didn’t get there earlier. PUTS were great for the 2 minutes I saw them, and I’d gladly pay to see them by themselves based off of those 2 minutes.
Next up was Psycho Realm, a group out of LA with strong ties to the Soul Assassins crew. Psycho Realm apparently has a fervent following in LA, as everyone in the arena lost their shit when they came out. They seem to capture the youth angst of every Latino kid growing up in LA. The vibe was angry, menacing, but not towards each other, but rather Psycho Realm’s and the crowd’s collective energy seemed directed towards the establishment, The Man, the police, and the familiar bogeymen that have been hip-hop’s targets since hip-hop became “aware” instead of the party music it started out as. Psycho Realm also had the balls to stage a faux gangland-style execution onstage, prompting Xtina to wonder if they toured outside of LA: “I think they’d terrify the San Francisco hip-hop scene.” As a kid who grew up in the Death Row Records era in California, those theatrics weren’t totally new to me, and I rather enjoyed their set despite limited knowledge of their songs. Sick Jacken kept the energy up and the crowd kept feeding him, especially during “Show Down.”
For something more my speed, Dilated Peoples came on, running through cuts from their albums before Evidence brought out the other half of his Step Brothers tandem, producer Alchemist. Together they ran through Evidence’s solo works, including “Letyourselfgo” and “Mr. Slow Flow” before covering Alchemist’s “Hold U Down” and a new single off of Rakaa Iriscience’s upcoming album Crown of Thorns. They closed their set with “This Way” and “Worst Comes to Worst” and absolutely KILLED them both, with a powerful moment coming when the crowd sang along on the hook to “This Way.” 2010 promises to be a big year for Dilated Peoples, as Evidence said he’s ready to drop both Cats & Dogs and the Step Brothers album with Alchemist this year, in addition to the Rakaa Iriscience album. It was good to see Babu, Rakaa, and Ev together for a full set, as I’ve only seen them briefly together as a surprise during an Evidence and Alchemist set at last year’s Rock the Bells. The predominantly LA-based crowd showed Dilated mass amounts of hometown love, as the group has repped LA just as hard as any other act from the City of Angels.
Tha Dogg Pound took the stage in full gangsta swagger mode, a contrast to the feel-good Dilated Peoples. By the looks of Daz and Kurupt’s set, you’d be shocked to remember that Dogg Food dropped 15 years ago. DPG rocked the stage like it was the mid-90s all over again, performing “Who Ride Wit Us” and “Big Pimpin’” before bringing out Snoop’s Uncle Junebug, red cup in hand and doing the gangsta boogie as Daz and Kurupt stormed around the stage. The rest of their set played out like a performance of Dr. Dre and Death Row’s greatest hits, as Daz and Kurupt went through “Bitches Ain’t Shit” and “Housewife” before Lady of Rage hit the stage to perform “Lyrical Gangbang” and “Afro Puffs.” DPG reeled off a few more West Coast classics, including “Ain’t No Fun” and “Xxplosive” before closing with a single off their new album, Street Life. DPG’s set felt like a family affair, as Uncle Junebug danced around and DPG rapped with old friends like Rage and Soopafly while G-funk pumped through the speakers. There was a certain comforting familiarity to it, and I think it’s most likely due to the fact that most of the crowd grew up listening to DPG and the Death Row hits. Also, I could finally cross them off my list of Death Row artists I need to see in concert before I die, leaving only Dr. Dre and my hopes for a Detox tour.
DPG gave way to Jay Electronica, who has staked his claim as my favorite rapper without an album. Unfortunately, he preformed only 3 or 4 songs, 2 of them being “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C.” I didn’t care, I was just glad I got to hear those, as he brought the fire with him throughout his set. “Exhibit C” live is something all hip-hop heads should experience, from the passion in his voice to perhaps the hottest beat in Just Blaze’s catalog (which is a pretty heavy claim, as the Megatron Don has some serious heaters to his name). I got chills when I first heard it, and I definitely got them again live in concert.
Raekwon came on shortly after Jay and opened with the Wu classic “C.R.E.A.M.” It was at this point I decided to get some fresh air, as an impressive green cloud had formed, which I blame on the Dilated Peoples, DPG, and Jay Electronica sets. The smoke was so thick, I couldn’t even see the ceiling. Plus, I’ve seen Raekwon a good 4 or 5 times, most recently in November following the release of the second Cuban Linx album. The timing couldn’t have been better, as Del tha Funkee Homosapien was in the middle of his set, performing “Dr. Bombay,” “Mistadobalina,” “If You Must,” and closing by reciting lyrics over the beat for “Clint Eastwood.” Following Del were the very special guests of the evening: all the original members of Freestyle Fellowship back together again. They kept the intensity up, going through material from Innercity Griots and their various solo projects. I always get a kick out of reunion shows that Paid Dues puts on, such as when they brought everyone from Living Legends back together last year for a set that can only be described as “epic”, “special” or “freaking awesome.”
The Murs and 9th Wonder set began inside the arena following Freestyle Fellowship’s set. Apparently we missed Tech N9ne, but no big deal. I saw him last year at Paid Dues; great show, but the music’s not for me. Murs and 9th kept the set to songs that they did together and kicked it off with “Murs Day” and brought out Sick Jacken for “The Problem Is,” following that up with “Silly Girl”, “I’m Innocent,” Walk Like A Man,” “Freak These Tales,” “H.U.S.T.L.E.,” a song where 9th raps about his love of Asian girls (seriously!) and closed with, of course, “L.A.” I’ve seen Murs do “L.A.” for Southern California shows a few times, and each time he brings the house down. As a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan, I do my best not to nod my head and catch the vibe of the vile Dodgers fans and this extremely awesome song. But it’s too much, and I’m bouncing and nodding along with the rest of the crowd.
My friends and I ducked out prior to Cube’s set, as we saw him last summer and are pretty confident he hasn’t dropped any new material between then and now. I think I’m still bitter he didn’t close with “Today Was a Good Day” when I saw him. I realize “Gangsta Nation” is a dope track, but how Ice Cube doesn’t close a concert with “Today Was a Good Day” is one of the great mysteries of my life.
Murs took some heat from whiny elitists online for having too many “gangsta rappers” and not enough Brother Ali, Atmosphere, etc. Murs replied to that criticism saying that the artists these whiners are mentioning, he asked all of them to come and perform but the schedules and such didn’t work out. Instead, they’re stuck with legendary West Coast rappers like DPG and Ice Cube, who put on great shows. Oh poor them. All I know is that Paid Dues delivered for me once again, and I’d like to thank Murs for putting his time and effort in to making this festival happen year after year. There’s something about these hip-hop shows where the whole crowd is just in sync with each other and we’re not worried about our daily lives and the drama around the country and around the world. Everyone is on the same page, making it a peaceful gathering of music lovers who just want to lose themselves in the music, even if it is just for a day. I can’t wait for Rock the Bells.