The annual Black August concert, which honors freedom fighters and political prisoners, took over New York’s Nokia Theater on Sunday, August 26th, with a huge hip-hop bill that included Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def and several others.
Presented by Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the evening was hosted by MXGM’s Monifa Bandele and Dead Prez’ M1. The sold-out event was dedicated to Assata Shakur, a revolutionary activist and former Black Panther member who, even though evidence revealed she neither carried nor fired a weapon, was sentenced to life in prison in 1973 for the death of a New Jersey state trooper. Shakur, who celebrated her 60th birthday that night, is in exile in Cuba and has a $1 million bounty on her head, along with having been recently being placed on the list of domestic terrorists.
It was a full house an hour in, everyone bumping to Black Sheep and Run DMC courtesy of DJ Evil D. “This is not an industry party! We are real motherf***ing people at a real show. So, make some noise!” commanded D.
A representative from event sponsor ImageNation, the Harlem-based film and music organization, screened a brief video and then Puerto Rican/Chilean trio Rebel Diaz took the stage. They were followed by rapper/spoken word poet Queen GodIs, who saluted the audience with “Greetings earthlings, peace everybody.” DJ D-Nice held post behind the turntables next, saying “Today is the 20th year death anniversary of Scott LaRock. So, I’m gonna take it back to crazy old school sh*t, to Latin Quarters, to Times Square. Make some noise!” He mixed tracks that included “The Bridge Is Over” and “World Tour.”
Umi, a rapper from Alabama who is down with Dead Prez and the A-alikes, performed a track from his soon-to-be-released solo album. After, Dead Prez took over and went into “Know Your Enemy.” “George Bush is way worse than Bin Laden is… how we supposed to fight freedom when we ain’t got it?!” Stic.man spat. Their eight song set included “Mindsex” and “W-4.” Though the crowd was not entirely restless, it was clear they were eager for the performances to move on.
M1 soon brought out six freedom fighters that shared their criticism of the government. “George Bush does not represent the dominant culture in America,” said one former political prisoner sporting a black do-rag and white-on-white Air Force Ones. “Let’s keep boogieing. Let’s keep rocking. Let’s let hip-hop represent a revolutionary movement, not 50 Cent,” he said to shouts and claps from the audience both black and white alike. “That brother needs a rectification program,” he concluded while a random concertgoer yelled “50 Cent is a sell out!”
At this point it became clear that Dead Prez had extended their set because the other performers hadn’t arrived yet. So Common, who was supposed to go on later that night as the “surprise guest,” filled in during the delay. He revived the crowd with renditions of “The People,” “Black Maybe,” “Testify” and “The Corner,” jumping up and down across the stage.
Mos Def followed, wearing a blue and yellow jersey with the words “Fighter” across it, over a white tee that read “Justice.” Def went through hits like “Priority,” “Rock N Roll” and “Hip Hop” before singing along to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” A group of impatient audience members started chanting headliner Talib Kweli’s name in hopes that the rapper would take the stage, to which Mos Def comically responded, “Don’t do that. That’s not how it’s gonna work. ‘Oh shit, maybe if I yell out his name he will miraculously appear!’ That’s not what’s happening here.”
Mos Def performed a few more songs before DJ Jazzy Joyce took over the turntables and Kweli finally joined him. Together, they performed “Africa Dream,” “Say Something” and “Respiration,” the later of which also featured help from Common. It was the most hype moment of the night; the crowd went nuts.
“I just dropped an album this week. It’d be cool if we play something for them,” Kweli told Joyce, who broke into “Deliver Us” followed by “Hot Thing.” Talib took it into “Get High” from there and the audience rhymed along with him, waving their hands in the air and holding their lighters up.
Saigon and a new artist named Free followed, performing one song each. But Kweli officially closed the very enjoyable show, performing “Listen” to the crowd’s rapt attention as the clock hit 1 a.m..