BROOKLYN, New York â€” The remnants of Hurricane Ivan may have put a damper on the last weekend of summer, but the rain, clouds and brisk weather could not do the same to the old-fashioned block party Dave Chappelle threw on Saturday.
For the biggest comedian in the world right now, the secretive neighborhood jam was his Summer of '69, a hip-hop and R&B Woodstock that featured a hit list of his favorite artists, including a surprising reunion of the Fugees, the hip-hop trio that disbanded after their second and last album, The Score, sold 15 million copies worldwide. Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras came together to headline the day-long concert, which was shot by famed film and music-video director Michel Gondry for a likely DVD release.
Chappelle graced the stage to introduce the Fugees to a crowd that was expecting just a Lauryn Hill solo performance (see "Chappelle Throwing A Block Party With Kanye, Lauryn, Others"). "We were going to have Lauryn Hill perform tonight but Columbia [Records] wouldn't clear her songs," Chappelle said, referring to Hill's record label. "So she came up with a better idea. Ladies and gentleman â€” the Fugees!"
As the thundering bass of Bone Crusher's "Never Scared" blasted through the speakers, Wyclef ran onto the stage, getting the crowd hyped with lines from the Fugees' "Nappy Heads (Remix)." Moments later, Hill entered the stage, receiving a rousing cheer from the hundreds of fans who had gathered on the L-shaped block in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood. Wearing a short khaki coat over a flowing white pantsuit and Yankees cap cocked to the side, Hill resembled the performer of old â€” not the unstable, unkempt artist she's been made out to be in recent years.
Hill's verse and the emergence of Pras punctuated "Nappy Heads" and the group's other hits, which included "Fu-Gee-La" and "Ready or Not." When Hill hit her verse on "Ready or Not," the crowd joined in enthusiastically: "So while you're imitating Al Capone/ I'll be Nina Simone ..." Though Hill's new work is supposed to be in the singer/songwriter mold, she was all about dropping lyrics on this night, except when she gloriously sang "Killing Me Softly" to minimal accompaniment from the backing band.
The reunion's most delicious moment came when Wyclef, standing at a mic with his guitar, told the crowd it was time to put an end to all the rumors. Immediately, the band behind him unleashed the rhythmic stabs of Lauryn Hill's solo cut "Lost Ones," which many have considered to be a veiled declaration of autonomy from Hill toward her former bandmate. "It's funny how money change a situation/ Miscommunication leads to complication/ My emancipation don't fit your equation," she rapped, shoving herself in Wyclef's grill. While Pras and Hill danced around him with mock anger, Wyclef simply held his pose, eyes rolled upwards as he took the faux-abuse. It was a self-aware moment that underscored the genuine bond the three once shared with one another.
The good vibes had been in effect throughout the day, starting with opening afternoon sets from Kanye West (who left promptly for a show in Chicago later that evening), Freeway and Dead Prez. Erykah Badu and Jill Scott performed back-to-back, their haunting soul songs drifting underneath the overcast skies. Both singers would return to the stage to help the Roots perform "You Got Me" from their 1999 album, Things Fall Apart, and old-school fast-rap icons Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap joined the group for classics like "Warm It Up, Kane" and "Poison."
Just before the Fugees' set, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common joined forces and ripped through a set, ending with a spirited performance of Talib's "Get By" and Mos Def's "Umi Says," both crowd favorites. The Fugees weren't the only folks making up at the block party: Common performed his song "The Light" beside Erykah Badu, his former girlfriend.
Even amidst the memorable musical performances, it was Dave Chappelle's day. The block party was his idea, a re-creation of the 1972 Wattstax concert in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles that featured R&B, soul and gospel greats of the era. The concert film, which featured the comic narration of Richard Pryor, was recently released on DVD.
Chappelle played the funnyman between each set. He dropped a poem ("Five thousand black people chillin' in the rain â€” 19 white people peppered in"), challenged a Mohawked man to an MC battle, and sang two songs in character as R. Kelly, satirizing the infamous sex tape that allegedly shows the R&B singer's ritualistic kinky side.
Fans wanting to check out the block party had to go through an intricate process that included registering online and getting e-mailed a secret location to meet in order to be bused to the concert site, which was also kept a secret. In the end, the inclement weather kept many away, but not enough to derail the enthusiasm of the several hundred fans who did show up.
The night ended with a freestyle session featuring the Roots'
?uestlove on drums, Cody Chesnutt on guitar and a litany of rappers and singers, plus a final thank you to Dave Chappelle, the man who, for one day, got to live out his own private music fantasy.
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