On the same day that the nation was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Afropunks took to Commodore Barry Park to tear it up with legendary acts including Living Colour, Saul Williams, Danny Brown, Death, The Skins, Vintage Trouble, Chuck D, Questlove and more.
“The task is not done. The journey is not complete,” said Martin Luther King III at Washington’s National Mall.
A few hundred miles away, Afropunks were delivering a similar message, but in a different way.
“I was born in Queens in 1960, a’ight?” said Chuck D. So much sh*t that’s been coming across on the radio is hate music, using the face of rap music, using the face of the body of hip hop, and y’all allow these m*thafuckas to happen. Their stations are right across the goddamn river. For God sake’s, stop one of these m*thafuckas from going to work and poisoning your community. There are more artists than ever right now, so man and woman up. Speak up for your independence. Don’t let it end with Afropunk.”
Pulling out a bag (which Chuck exulted that he’d only spent $39 on), he produced a copy of Rolling Stone, the NY Post and several other magazines, criticizing them for their narrow coverage. “Nothing against Drake, but XXL, The Source and all these magazines… if you’re gonna do what the NY Post does and only cover rappers when they f*ckin’ up, only cover black people when they fucked up, then you can burn too” (audience members shouted “burn it”).
Championing more support for women in Hip hop and condemning several artists for disrespecting women, Chuck continued: “There’s more women doing hip hop now more than ever and they need your support. ” Chuck also reminded folks of the importance of the ‘DJ.’ “In this borough of Brooklyn, the DJ’s were gods and they allowed the MC to talk and if they MC got outta line, the DJ cut their f*cking mic. You hold this mic like an instrument. you don’t give a guitar to a person who can’t play guitar.”
Chiming in on the VMAs, that were literally taking place up the street at the Barclay’s center, Chuck reminded the audience of the importance of getting their money’s worth from performers: “It’s not about how people come in, it’s what they leave with.”
In between “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” and “Hoover Music” Chuck continued with a strong call to arms. But it wasn’t all seriousness, as Chuck D knows how to move a crowd. He ran around the stage, tossing the mic in the air, saluting his band. DJ Lord then let loose, spinning a mash-up of the White Stripe’s ‘Seven Nation Army’ and Nirvana’s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit.”
A day earlier, Saul Williams was defending Harry Belefonte’s criticism of Jay Z and also expressed his distaste with the preemptive Robin Thick-Marvin Gaye lawsuit, along with his thoughts about the Treyvon Martin verdict. With gold chainmail-like attire a la Niggy Tardust, he launched into List Of Demands (Reparations) with full on fervor and the crowd went crazy. The Spacefroot Dance Project was performing in the crowd during Saul’s set. He personally asked them to be part of the act and they were incredible, donning Guy Fawkes masks. Saul rounded out his set with a rousing version of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” but not before listing off a remarkable list of revolutionaries.
Living Colour was lively as ever, nearly 25 years after their first single in 1988, laughing and jumping on stage, they opened with “Cult of Personality” then sailed into “I Want To Know.” Corey Glover brought the crowd to church with an extended, bluesy intro to “Open Letter to a Landlord,” imploring the audience to protect their neighborhoods. He asked, “How many of you been stopped by the cops? (a bunch of hands went up). I know I have and they’re still f*cking with me.
Vernon Reid’s guitar skills have not aged one bit. He floats in and out of blues-rock solos and finger tapping as effortlessly as ever, and Doug Wimbish (of Sugar Hill Records fame) was impeccable as always.
Danny Brown, who reminds me of a hybrid version of Andre 3000 and B-Real, but much more raw and unbridled, won the crowd over instantly to a crunked out, high-energy “I Will” with lyrics that would definitely embarrass ya Mom, but just when your tempted to right him off as mindless, he moves into a more serious “Molly Ringwald” over a Nightmare on Elm Street-type beat courtesy of Araabmuzik channeling a metal growl with lyrics that open fire on other rappers. The next morning he announced the release date for his next album “Old” for September 30.
Death was straight-up, bad-ass rock ‘n” roll complete with Hendrix-like soloing and drum rolls that threatened to melt your face off. They opened their set with ‘Keep on Knocking.” You can tell the Hackney brothers have practiced their asses off. During “Rock ‘n’ Roll victim, Dannis kicked into a drum solo that could knock any 70’s prog-rock drummer on his ass. They were inspiring to watch with the understanding of the many twists and turns they’re lives have taken. Bobby’s voice is versatile. He would often go right into an amazing punk-rock scream from a soft ballad, never missing a beat on bass (which is a monumental task unto itself.) I kept wondering if “protopunk” was just a convenient term for them because Death isn’t really definable. Their sound draws from folky, 70’s Cream-like ballad aka “Let the World Turn” only to crash right into three-chord, metal-punk mayhem right into a turn-around that sounds like Yes, Metallica and Kool & the Gang had a baby who plays a mean guitar solo. Their sound definitely paved the way for bands like Living Colour and Bad Brains. Bobby dedicated the song to his deceased brother David. “You’re A Prisoner” was driving rock ‘n’ roll, pedal to the floor anthem about self-actualization. Towards the end of the set, Bobby said, “Yes, We are Death from Detroit and one thing you can say about Detroit is we have a way of rising up.” The band then aptly ended the set with “Where Do We Go From Here.”
A poignant question, indeed; Where do we go from here?
We go forward. Unwavering, moved by sound and vision, pushed and shaped and molded by each other’s kindness and creativity and our own personal adversities. We keep playing, we keep collaborating, fighting, screaming, dancing, and learning with the understanding that we have the ability to change the world if we want to.
More photos from the amazing performers and attendees at Afropunkfest 2013: