Old-school rappers Doug E. Fresh, MC Lyte and Big Daddy Kane took the Palace Theatre to school Friday night, with each proving their longevity in the hip-hop world.
For three hours and two acts, the beats flowed from the stage and the fairly large crowd danced, clapped and shouted along to each rapper’s old hits. Although none of the acts on the bill have had a major hit since the ’90s (or, in Lyte’s case, 2003), the show was able to sidestep the tired nostalgia act trap, thanks to the enthusiasm, energy and pure joy each artist brought to the stage.
Kane, first on the bill, didn’t hit the stage until about 8:45 p.m. — prior to this, DJs TGIF and iRoc from Jamz 96.3 FM entertained the slowly growing crowd. The two occasionally paused the record spinning to bring out some amateur talent, the best being 11-year-old cocksure drummer Nigel Jones. Besides ripping it up on the kit, he had the audience in stitches with his asides — best one-liner: “I drop my sticks and I still make it look good.”
Eventually, Kane hit the stage to big cheers and proceeded to steamroll the crowd with smooth rhyming and an even smoother stage presence, down to his red dress shirt and black vest. His half-hour set felt much shorter, as he blew through track after track on a whim. Highlights included “Smooth Operator” mid-set, with Kane delivering rapid-fire verses with jaw-dropping speed and accuracy.
He only really stretched out on his major hit, “Ain’t No Half Steppin’,” turning the choruses into a call-and-response chant-along. Afterwards, Kane showed off some pretty limber breakdancing moves with the help of two other male dancers, ending his set on a high note.
And just like that, the first act was over — but with plenty left to come.
MC Lyte upped the game in the second act with a live drummer, who brought a kinetic energy to the stage during her half-hour and pushed cuts like “Poor Georgie” through the roof. Where Kane was smooth and suave, Lyte brought the swaggering hip-hop energy, firing off boastful rhymes with a more measured, yet powerful delivery. Highlights included her verses from her ’90s collaboration with Queen Latifah and Yo-Yo, “I Wanna Be Down,” and, of course, “Ruffneck,” which closed out the set with another rousing audience chant-along.
Doug E. Fresh closed out the evening with the most hyperactive of the three half-hour sets — although he took far longer to get going than the others. For the first 10 minutes, his DJs played back old R&B and hip-hop tracks while Fresh ran around the stage like a madman, occasionally egging the audience on but laying off the actual rapping.
Things picked up during “The Show,” with Fresh hitting the mic for his trademark beat-boxing. He originated this, and there’s still no one better — at one point he pulled out a harmonica and beat-boxed with that for a while, creating something that sounded like a cross between Delta blues and old school hip-hop beats.