LL Cool J feat. the Roots, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Z-Trip, with Queen Latifah, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, DMC, Monie Love and Treach, at TD Garden, Sunday, November 19.
We know when (August 11, 1973), we know where (the basement of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the Bronx) and we know who (DJ Kool Herc). Hip-hop is almost unique among musical genres for having such an unambiguous and specific creation event, and that origin myth has spawned many celebrations of its 50th anniversary this year.
The most electric 13 minutes of any Grammy telecast in recent memory was February’s tribute to hip-hop’s first half-century, with one classic act after another appearing to deliver a few bars before, figuratively, passing the microphone To the next one. It was an embarrassment of riches, an absolutely joyous revision of what came before, and LL Cool J, the segment’s host and fellow participant, apparently decided to take it on tour.
That’s an exaggeration, of course. The “50 Years of Hip-Hop” performance involved two dozen acts, too many to put together on one stage in a concert that lasted just under three hours. For Sunday’s final date of the FORCE (Frequencies of Real Creative Energy) Tour, LL Cool J brought a third of that number to the TD Garden. Eras covered included the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, with multiple Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers, an extraordinary late-night house band, and a couple of sitcom veterans among the roster.
It couldn’t encompass the breadth of what happened on the Grammy stage, but it was perhaps the most logistically feasible equivalent for a traveling show, and it was a constant thrill.
In fact, almost literally. From the moment the Roots took off with pounding drums, churning bass and sousaphones on the Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “It’s Just Begun,” there were almost no breaks in the music, and most songs moved straight into the next. They served the same function as a backing band for a classic soul act, warming up the crowd with a short, passionate set before the headliners appeared and then remaining on stage throughout.
But their stamina never wavered, with Questlove’s drums remaining especially crisp throughout, though given how Black Thought chattered off the bridge in a seemingly breathless barrage that strained the group’s energy terribly, they were smart to approach “Here I Come” early.
Doug E. Fresh was next with his gruff tenor, pouring energy even on tracks where the music sounded low. He was soon joined in the sizzle of “The Show” and “La Di Da Di” by Slick Rick, whose crisp, literally relaxed delivery provided an effective contrast, keeping up with the beat as Fresh pushed him. And Fresh’s beatboxing solos were as sharp and percussive as anything the inexhaustible Questlove was doing on drums.
With the Roots playing a dramatic and hard-hitting backdrop, LL Cool J came out for the first of his two sets, performing “I’m Bad” as if he were providing the theme song to his own James Bond movie. His energy was halfway between Fresh and Rick, constantly moving but controlled and restrained enough that he was practically ready to explode. (In fact, he periodically rolled up his sleeves to show off his Navy crime-fighting mega-arms.) He strutted, and not without reason, through “Doin’ It,” “Luv U Better,” and “Goin’ Back To Cali,” tough and confident without aggression.
Then, suddenly, DMC showed up unannounced for a handful of Run-DMC songs that included “Hollis Crew (Krush Groove 2),” the Roots blasting “My Sharona’s” fragmented riff from “It’s Tricky,” and “It’s “Like That.” ” where he, LL and Black Thought rapped over nothing but a free DJ beat. After that, LL and DMC left and the Roots took things back down, if you can call it that, with a short set that included cuts by JAY-Z and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (“Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” with its piano sound). notice that it started to sound like a siren), before handing things over to DJ Jazzy Jeff for a solo on the turntable.
The arrival of Queen Latifah marked a shift in the sonic palette more towards the socially conscious atmosphere of Motown or Philadelphia International of the early ’70s. “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here” was equipped with lush orchestral hits, “I Wanna Be Down ( Remix)” was a slow burner and “UNITY” worked against a backdrop of deep jazz soul. Monie Love appeared soon after, and Latifah spent the rest of her set smiling as she fed off the energy and rhythmic complexity of Love’s raps on “Ladies First” and “Monie In The Middle,” where the beat pushed Love even further. stronger. They were soon joined by Naughty By Nature’s Treach, who generously shared reliable tracks like “OPP” and “Hip Hop Hooray.”
Their vibe seemed to inform LL Cool J’s final set, which began with material like the jangly “I Need Love” and the gentle yacht jump of “Hey Lover” that showed off his more sensitive side, before getting increasingly harsher and sinister with “I Shot Ya”, the vibrant “Jack The Ripper” and the ultra-confident brawler “Mama Said Knock You Out”. (The disco groove of “Phenomenon” and the snappy, electric synth funk of Whodini’s “Freaks Come Out At Night” helped keep him from getting too lost down that rabbit hole.)
Just before closing out the set, the show and the tour, the rapper told the audience that his vision had been to bring live musicians and music with him on tour. Then he and the Roots, with none of the other headliners returning for final bows, launched into “Rock The Bells,” with band hits, cutting turntables, cowbells and harsh syncopation combining into a polyrhythmic fury. . It’s a song from when hip-hop was just becoming a teenager, and the music’s continued power showed why it survived long enough to join the AARP.
LL Cool J/The FORCE (Frequencies of Real Creative Energy) setlist live at TD Garden, November 19, 2023
- I’m wrong
- Doing it
- 4, 3, 2, 1 (with Black Thought)
- Flava in Ya Ear (Remix) (Craig Mack cover)
- The force
- Big old butt
- I love you better
- road girl
- sick bomb
- Rampage (EPMD cover)
- tinkling baby
- Returning to Cali
- Let’s go everyone (Run-DMC cover) (with DMC)
- Hollis Crew (Krush-Groove 2) (Run-DMC cover) (with DMC)
- It’s like this (Run-DMC cover) (with DMC)
- Here We Go (Run-DMC cover) (with DMC)
- It’s Complicated (Run-DMC cover) (with DMC)
- I need love
- Hello lover
- Big Poppa (The Notorious BIG cover)
- Everything I Have (Cover by Jennifer Lopez)
- I shot you
- Jack the Ripper
- I can’t live without my radio
- Be quiet
- Freaks Come Out at Night (cover by Whodini)
- Mr. good bar
- Mom said knock you out
- Rock the bells
You can contact Marc Hirsh at [email protected] or at Bluesky @spacecitymarc.bsky.social.
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