The G-Funk Fest The Observatory March 15, 2014 It's been three years since west coast hip-hop's most respected crooner Nate Dogg passed away. Like all other hip-hop artists who have passed, his death only seemed to bolster his impact and bring it back to the spotlight. It's well deserved too; what would California summers and springs even be like without hearing a Nate Dogg hook somewhere during your daily routine?
Though the G-Funk era seems pretty dated in 2014, it lives on through the artists of the era who still produce music and do shows, and through its impact on the current West Coast revival. The Observatory celebrated the life of Nate Dogg and and his contemporaries in the fashion it knows best: hip-hop bills filled with west coast rap veterans, including Warren G, MC Eiht, Spice 1, Kokane & Big Hutch of Above the Law, and 2nd II None. That's four musical sectors of California -- Long Beach, LA, the Bay Area, and Pomona -- covered within a few hours.
See also: The Top Rappers in OC
Compton's 2nd II None were the first to take the stage, and as early as it was the house was still completely packed. Even with a sold-out crowd already filling the venue, the DJ Quik affiliates didn't seem to get much of a response or reaction out of the crowd. 2nd II None's music is still classic, but show-goers didn't seem to care much. "I guess I'm too old-school," they rapped in one of their lines Saturday night, and as far as The Observatory's crowd was concerned maybe they were right. Still, 2nd II None remain one of the west's most underrated acts of the 90's, and despite a lackluster crowd response the now forty-something rappers still showed plenty of signs of life in their showmanship.
Above the Law's Kokane and Big Hutch were the next to perform, and ended up delivering the most spirited performance of the night. It's been nearly 20 years since the classic album Uncle's Sam Curse was released, but they still haven't lost a step as far as their live show is concerned. Because of his on-stage charisma, it was fitting too that the new song Kokane finished their set with sounded like a fusion of older down-south crunk and newer trap-rap. Even though the night was supposed to be about G-Funk's period of dominance, Kokane showed he had enough energy and enthusiasm in him to go toe-to-toe with members of Atlanta's drug-rap dynasty, like Waka Flocka Flame and Young Thug. Also, the new song features a really good Busta Rhymes verse.
MC Eiht and Spice-1 would follow up the raw power of Kokane and Big Hutch's set with a more cerebral experience. Each emcee didn't spend too long on stage, but each treated the audience to a live music equivalent of sitting down and hearing an OG spit game. Eiht didn't exactly have the the live charisma of some of the west's newcomers, but performing classic cuts like "Thicker than Water" and "Take 2 With Me" as well as yelling out his trademark "Geah!" was all it really took to make us happy. The audience may not have been feeling it, but being in the presence of Eiht as he performed a few of his best songs should have been worth the price of admission alone.
Spice-1's performance felt more like a club appearance than an actual show, as he really only took the time to fully perform a few songs, but his breakout bit of acapella fast-rap was one of the highlights of the night. That small moment proved that he was probably the performer that remained the most lyrically dexterous, and alongside that Spice-1 and MC Eiht's live rendition of "The Murda Show" was something everyone should have either mentally stored away or taken video of for further use. It's not often you have two old-school artists of that caliber together on stage performing a classic collaborative record in an intimate venue. Plus, he performed "187 Proof," a legendary story-telling song every California rap fan should have memorized by now. Warren G's performance was standard fare for a Warren G set, and probably elicited the strongest response out of the crowd. Still, it wasn't as monumental as literally seeing 2nd II None, Above the Law, MC Eiht, and Spice-1 perform back to back. Those are usually the type of bills you see for streamed events like Boiler Room, where invite-only guests stand around as talented performers put on a memorable show. Or, those are the type of shows you mash up in your head when you're thinking of your "dream" or "once-in-a-lifetime" lineups. It was like being there during the performances of a west coast OG stage at Coachella, if such a thing existed (and it should).
Within a couple weeks' time, gangsta-rap's newest revivalist Schoolboy Q will be performing two massive shows at the Observatory. He will be showcasing his updated, personalized side of gangsta rap to a packed audience who will probably give a better reception than this past Saturday's crowd. And, while it's always great to witness talented up-and-comers at their prime, it's always nice to know there are still veterans out there who still hold onto the pillars of their past without fading into relics.
Random Notebook Dump #1: Battlecat DJed for all the performers, and even sung into a talkbox setup and played alongside to the production of certain tracks. He even sung as Kokane and Big Hutch performed their biggest hit "Black Superman." That was a glorious moment.
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Random Notebook Dump #2: By the time Warren G arrived on stage, we're pretty sure about half the audience outside of the pit had been involved with or come close to some sort of altercation. Note: if you're going to get plastered by the time the show has barely reached its halfway point, at least keep things from spiraling out of control.
Critic's Bias: I've spent many years memorizing and listening to the catalogs of Above the Law, MC Eiht, and Spice-1 back-to-back. Plus, I have spent several years growing up within a quick drive's distance from Above the Law's hometown of Pomona, and thus by some sort of unspoken regional rule I am obliged to know and love their music.