Ice-T/ Grandmaster Flash/ The Jungle Brothers/ Afrika Bambaataa Essential Festival, Brighton
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Friday 30 May 1997
Two DJs began the lesson, in contrasting style. Afrika Bambaataa was once the samurai-clad leader of the Soul Sonic Force, the man who with "Planet Rock" allied hip-hop to Kraftwerk, anticipating techno. On Monday, he took the stage alone, almost unnoticed, absentmindedly mixing records with a modernistic sheen, as if his legend was a long way behind him, as if the present was all that mattered.
Grandmaster Flash took his mystique more seriously. The music he made used fragments of hip-hop's first sources - James Brown, Chic, old soul. His scratching was as warm, as redolent of history as the records he sampled, but his unsentimental presence kept the mix alive until he cursed the sound and was gone, the impression of erratic genius careering by confirmed.
The Jungle Brothers must have wished to obliterate parts of their past - the dark days when their leading role in the Native Tongues, the movement they formed with De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, had left them stranded as rap toughened and moved on. They peered back anyway, through their long, influential history of conscious funk.
But it was their new single, "Brain", which brought them into focus. It was almost a love song, wistful for a future which, having survived rap's attrition this long, they could almost believe in.
Then they led the crowd in an old chant: "Peace, unity, love and havin' fun," over a sea of raised peace-signs. "This is how we used to do it," they said defiantly. "This is how we still do it." And this is why the Native Tongues recently reformed, the same exhaustion at black bloodshed that De La Soul's last record caught. Waving peace-signs in a tent for once seemed a valid response.
In the subtext of the day, Ice-T might have seemed part of the problem, and he knew how it looked. "I took a perfectly innocent music, and added drugs, bitches, money, gunshots," he confessed. "Totally fucked up hip- hop, didn't I?" More than anyone else, Ice-T took all the conflicts in rap's history on stage with him. He played up his hustler image. He hit brutal heights in descriptions of death worthy of James Ellroy ("You end up shot, wind up lookin' at a zip-lock"), then warned against drugs. Freestyling what he'd do to "white bitches", he paused to explain why women shouldn't be offended.
His act walked a razor's edge, leaning one way then the other, coaxing everyone with him. Posing as hip-hop's bad seed, he smoothed over the shuddering leaps between each of the previous acts' eras, emphasising continuities. He ended with a new rap as stuffed with positivity as The Jungle Brothers. As a last touch, he bowed and doffed his hat.
Treading round the fault-lines on which so many think hip-hop is ready to crack, he completed the day's job - to show that hip-hop can not only zoom in on ghetto catastrophe, but rise above it: a musical nation which doesn't deserve to have its heroes in the ground, and was relieved to find so many still moving.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 2 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who left house after argument with her parents
- 3 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 4 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Syd Barrett's inner visions
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Simon Cowell 'feels like an idiot' after Jules and Matisse scandal
Game of Thrones season 6: George RR Martin doing 'anything he can' to get new book The Winds of Winter out before next HBO series airs
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers