by DJ Mo Wilks, Photos courtesy of Jim LaCreta
To say a good time was had by all would be an understatement. LL Cool J’s FORCE Tour stopped through the TD Garden on Sunday November 19th, celebrating 50 years of Hip Hop with royalty that included a Queen, the DJ of a Fresh Prince and surprise guest performers that straight up did the damn thing. For real, for real: the FORCE (Frequencies Of Real Creative Energy) Tour was a Hip Hop trip from the ABC’s of it, to the OPP’s and DMC’s of it.
One of Hip Hop's signature ingredients, the 'boom bap', is the boom of the bass and the bap of the drum. Both elements were more than adequately taken care of thanks to the Legendary Roots crew featuring The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff on the turntables under the musical direction of drummer Questlove. LL specifically selected the band for their versatility and because of lead vocalist rapper Black Thought, who LL dubbed at evenings end, "your rapper's favorite rapper." Black Thought provided backing rap vocals to keep the artists on task, on pace and on point. Never has there been a rapper more flexible to provide every rapper's style, cadence and flow as Black Thought. He was flawless.
Master emcee Doug E. Fresh was the opening act. An emcee of his caliber commanded the TD Garden stage and could have done so on his own for the entire night. A historic moment occurred when he and storytelling great Slick Rick reunited to perform their classic, "The Show". Rick would also rhyme to "Mona Lisa" with Jazzy Jeff on the turntables. Slick Rick was draped in his signature full chain along with backup dancers, The Slick-ettes. The human beatbox trainer, Doug E. Fresh announced this was not only Hip Hop's biggest party, but the biggest Scorpio birthday party.
LL Cool J, possibly the best in-shape rapper in the game, took the stage for the first of his two performance sets. Seamlessly, Uncle L and The Roots were synced up to the mammoth background screen that projected music video memories for the crowd to reminisce to. His set included: "4,3,2,1," "Around The Way Girl," "Head Sprung," "Jingling Baby," "Nitro," and "Going Back To Cali." The sold out Garden audience was put on notice while the Bronx, New York may have been Hip Hop's birthplace, Queens had a hand in the art as well. When he brought out DMC of Run DMC, they rapped together to "Here We Go". Shortly after, DMC rocked out and rhymed to "It's Tricky".
There was a pause in between performers with The Roots Crew showing their creative musicianship. The Roots took the arena on a journey that covered icons Earth Wind and Fire, blended into a DMX tribute, then made a segue from Stevie Wonder's vintage hit "Knocks Me Off My Feet" into WU-Tang's ODB "Shimmy Shimmy". The Flavor Unit was next to rock the mic.
Queen Latifah took the TD Garden stage to a standing ovation as is deserving of rap royalty. She began with her first hit 1989's, "Wrath Of My Madness" giving a loving shout to the track’s producer, the late DJ Mark The 45 King. Latifah decked out in sparkling gear moved the crowd, through her catalog of jams including, "Just Another Day," and "It's Alright". A true supportive sister, Latifah would bring to the stage another Native Tongues/Flavor Unit member: Monie Love. The duo recreated their hit collab, "Ladies First" and Latifah gave Monie the stage to show some love, having her perform "Monie In The Middle".
Queen Latifah showed why she's on par with any male rapper in terms of flow, celebrity and influence. She introduced her fellow New Jersey rapper Treach of Naughty By Nature to the roar of the crowd.
Treach didn't waste a second, jumping right into the mix with his group's hits,"Uptown Anthem," "Craziest," and "O.P.P." The Queen and leader of the Flavor Unit called for a very appropriate change in the playlist, switching out her song, "Unity" for, Naughty By Nature's, "Hip Hop Hooray", as a salute to Hip Hop's 50th Anniversary as well as the concluding evening of their successful national tour.
L.L. Cool J would take the stage again with DJ Z-Trip for his final set and tour bows. During this set he proved why the Ladies Love Cool James with a series of slow sensual grooves, and occasional shirt lift the ladies definitely approved of. His final set featured, "I Need Love", and "Hey Love" featuring Boyz II Men. There were salutes to rappers who had passed away including Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest and a nod to Notorious B.I.G. as well duets he did with Jennifer Lopez. The screams were non-stop. After giving the ladies some flavor, Cool J reminded dudes that just because he has a soft side, he's still the Ripper rapper who is not to be trifled with.
Reviving his lyrics from the rap collaboration "I Shot Ya", L.L. effortlessly dismissed and reminded people rappers like Kool Moe D and Ice-T didn't last long when in the crosshairs of L.L.'s path. One of his concluding songs, "I Can't Live Without My Radio", took us back in time to one of his break-out songs which made it to the soundtrack to the movie Krush Groove. He would smooth out the set again paying tribute to spreading love to the ladies with, "Who Do You Love" and the playful track "Hush". In what could only be described as L.L.'s tribute to his own childhood rap heroes, he rocked the audience out to Brooklyn's Whodini and their 1982 hit, "Freaks Come Out at Night."
It was an amazing, generational transcending event from start to finish, full of families sharing smiles, Kangols, Adidas suits, colorful graffiti clothing, large earrings and memories. Everyone reminisced and rapped along to the soundtrack of their youth; a time of Hip Hop's infancy and growth.
Quoting the Notorious B.I.G. from his hit "Juicy", 'Who ever thought that hip-hop would take it this far?' Nay-sayers surely didn't, but the voices of the artists and their supporters knew Hip Hop was and is going far. Cheers to the spirit of Hip Hop and the next 50 years.