Artists from various genres of music turned out last night (Oct. 28) for the first of a series of benefit concerts for the newly formed Artists Empowerment Coalition (AEC). Held at New York’s Beacon Theater, the show featured performances from Hezekiah Walker, Najee, Montell Jordan, Naughty By Nature, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, Faith Evans, and DMX.
Hosted by Doug E. Fresh and Free from BET’s “106 & Park,” the show began on a spiritual note as Hezekiah Walker and his choir blessed the stage with a two-song gospel set. Following Walker, jazz flutist Najee showed his wide range of influences by performing both classical and jazz pieces.
Montell Jordan got the crowd to its feet during his three-song set. The former Def Soul artist performed hits “Get It On Tonite” and “This Is How We Do It,” as well as a new song, “Ride On Dem Thangs,” which featured a South Carolina-based MC named Dre. Naughty By Nature kept that energy going during its performances of “O.P.P.” and “Hip-Hop Hooray.” The New Jersey-based duo of Vinny and Treach took the time to pay tribute to fallen rappers including Tupac Shakur, with who Treach was close.
Early technical difficulties looked to spoil an otherwise spirited performance by Roberta Flack. However, the songstress was undeterred and delivered classics like “Killing Me Softly” to an appreciative crowd of fans.
The highlight of the evening was Wonder’s medley of classics. From “Golden Lady” to “Ribbon in the Sky,” the house band was so enamored with the singer/songwriter that they became part of the audience. After Wonder’s performance, which ended two hours into the show, much of the audience filed out. However, those who remained were treated to soulful set by Faith Evans, which included “You Gets No Love,” and “Never Gonna Let You Go.”
The evening closed with the always-enigmatic DMX. Joined by Ruff Ryders associate Drag-On, DMX seemed displeased by the diminished audience but gave a good performance touching on classics like “Get At Me Dog,” “I Miss You” (sans Faith Evans), and “Party Up.”
Rap legend Kool Moe Dee, legendary New York radio personality Hal Jackson, musician/producer James Mtume, and Dr. Cornell West all turned out to show their support for the AEC.
The AEC is a not-for-profit coalition of recording and performing artists and music supporters formed to promote changes in the relationships between artists and the companies that market and distribute their creative work. The AEC was initiated and inspired through the efforts of artists such as Wonder, Prince, DMX, Fresh, Chaka Khan, Flack, Najee, and the law firm of L. Londell McMillan, P.C. For more information, visit the organization’s official Web site.