Everything about them had been stripped down. Turntables were shrouded by a rough blanket, a primitive screen hung at the back. Stagecraft was limited to what MCs Dave and Pos had to say, and they responded by turning north London into a New York block party circa 1979. The crowd, divided into "the hip-hop motherfuckers over here" and "the wankers over here", waved their hands in the air as records crackled and scratched. Part old- skool, part Play School, the mood was confident in a way beyond any of their recent records.
But their past still had to be faced. "Anybody know about 3 Feet High and Rising?" Dave asked, and the crowd roared. "Yeah, yeah," he sighed. And his band played the hits, but not with the expected resignation and the acceptance that their past selves had won. They assaulted the songs in a process of ruthless reinvention.
They made "Me, Myself and I" into a party record, a simple noise. "Daisy don't mean anything," they rapped. "Daisy don't mean a thing."
A final "I" turned into a drawn-out rumble, and they slipped in a song from De La Soul Is Dead.
For one night at least, they really had killed the past, not by rejecting it, but by battering it into the present.
Their position assured, De La Soul went on to reclaim hip-hop's past, too. They listed their music's great names, and asked the crowd to respond. "You gotta keep it like that, you gotta keep it like that," they pleaded as Tupac raised unquestioned devotion. They played some Run-DMC, bringing back a name more forgotten even than theirs to the fold.
It was followed by a white light streaking suddenly through the crowd and the best of their new songs, "Stakes is High", a litany of abuses of black people and music by the careless and the cruel. As a statement of history and community that sounded like a party, it summed up a joyous night.
Nick HastedReuse content