Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth are sitting in a small, brightly-lit back room at Grand Star, relaxing before their set at Boombox‘s 4-year Anniversary in Los Angeles on November 6, 2010.
But as usual in these scenarios, there isn’t much opportunity to relax.
The door swings open and in walk DJs Rhettmatic and Babu, fists out in greeting, and Pete Rock’s face lights up. The four friends exchange hellos and a few words, some t-shirts and CD’s and the Beat Junkie DJs make their way out.
The door swings open and in walks a friend of the promoter’s, armed with a couple bottles of red wine. He is so excited to meet Pete and CL, that he starts explaining that he is also a rapper. They ask him to spit.
This chunky Mexican kid, in Jordans and a blue LA hat, begins to freestyle, and after a few moments, catches a groove. He gets a couple of “Ooohs” from the guys, which make his day.
But he won’t stop. He keeps going and going, and now it’s getting to be a little too much. Everyone in the room is staring at the wine bottle in his hand, which is totally forgotten by him. He finally finishes up his rant with a line about Staples Center.
The conversation immediately shifts to the Jordans on his feet, as Pete Rock says, “Man, y’all got the Jordans out here on the West Coast.”
Pete is wearing a New York staple: all-white Air Force Ones. CL has donned a throw-back 80’s gray overcoat, horn-rimmed glasses hanging from a white t-shirt underneath.
The door swings open and in walks the promoter, “You guys ready to go on?”
Pete Rock jumps up as if he’s been waiting to hear that question all night.
In a matter of minutes, Pete’s on the turntables, CL introduces him on the mic, and hip hop invades the building.
He starts to spin Xzibit, Tribe’s “Award Tour” and “Electric Relaxation”, Gangstarr, Nas, Wu-Tang’s “CREAM” and “Clan in the Front”. He even mixed James Brown in with the hip hop, even though he had a soul part of the set coming up.
This tripped me out. Hip hop artists have sampled James Brown so much that including him with the hip hop music was just as fitting and sounded just as right as putting him in with the soul songs.
Somewhere in all this, Pete played an intro of someone saying,
“I do realize that hip hop is now a form of showbiz.”
CL Smooth is standing in the shadows, dancing and singing along, having a ball, and suddenly yells out “Oh oh, it’s that gangster shit, baby!” as Pete plays Ultramagnetic MCs.
Pete shouts out his boys Rhett and Babu on the mic, and asks “But where’s J.Rocc?”
In turn, Rhettmatic jumps on stage, grabs another mic and shouts “C.A!” as the clubgoers shout back, “Allll Daaaaay!”
If you are a hip hop head in LA, and you don’t know the call-and-response of this particular phrase, you are not really a hip hop head in LA. This continues every ten minutes or so, Rhett with “CA”, all the LA heads responding “All Day!”
Pete scratches the records with fervor. He cuts up damn near every intro with precision, and this dark, sweaty, packed club is paying attention to every detail. No one seems to care that it’s too crowded to walk around, or even move. Pete Rock has created a zone, and everyone is in it.
Chillin’ in the cut with a drink in his hand, CL is paying attention to his partner. He gets the attention of the promoter and points to Pete, then brings his hand to his mouth and tilts back his head, giving the universal sign “to drink.” In thirty seconds flat, the promoter has poured a drink and given it to Pete Rock.
C.L. Smooth has got Pete Rock’s back, son.
As Pete Rock’s set comes to an end, it is obvious why he is a legend:
Anyone can spin a record, but only a real DJ can cut one up.
article/photos: Ani Yapundzhyan | @Aninomous