The Art of Rap Festival
Irvine Meadows Amphitheater
"I shouldn't have worn my J's today, man," a twentysomething said to his friend as they stood in the rain, waiting to be patted down outside of the Art of Rap Festival at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre.
"I told you not to," the plastic poncho-wearing buddy directly in front of me replied.
"I know, man, but the weather said it would stop raining late this afternoon. It's like 4:45 already, I thought it'd be done by now."
"The sun doesn't go down until like 7:30 or 8:00, that's when they meant."
Fortunately for everyone else, it stopped raining about an hour after that conversation. It was probably too late for that guy's Jordans, but it saved the bulk of the festival's crowd from getting too wet.
As I followed the Jordan and poncho-wearing homies along the puddle-laden trail to the soggy food court area just outside of the amphitheatre, I began to wonder where the second stage was. I showed up over two hours before Warren G just to watch Biz Markie perform for 20 minutes on the second stage, and the only set-up outside of the amphitheatre was a small logoless stage right next to the merch booth.
After 20 minutes of wandering around, I saw Biz Markie walk through some of the crowd toward the unimpressive stage. A few minutes after, he was on stage performing for a few hundred people. By the end of the set, Biz was leading a singalong of "Just a Friend" (although he may have hilariously forgotten some of the third verse) to well over 1,000 fans.
Why Biz wasn't on the main stage, I'll never understand, but it proved to be just one of a series of small errors that ultimately led to the unceremonious ending of the evening.
Upon arriving at the amphitheatre, I watched as Mack 10 took the stage at approximately the time his set was supposed to be over. After performing a few songs, the promoter practically had to rip the mic out of his hand, as the show was now running nearly an entire set behind schedule.
Rather old versions of EPMD, Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane each put on solid versions of a handful of classics before being rushed off stage. Warren G played a few of his own tunes, then a medley including Nate Dogg, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and more, before launching into "Regulate" for one of the biggest fan reactions of the night.
When the amphitheatre began to fill in, it became clear that the crowd was comprised primarily of two groups: middle-aged parents who finally got to let loose to the music they used to get down to in the late '80s and early '90s, and young rap fans looking to see legends. Although the two groups of fans didn't always see eye to eye, the camaraderie that the festival was looking to promote within the rap scene prevailed more often than not.
The 20-minute sets by hip-hop legends continued with Xzibit, Kool Moe Dee, DJ Quik, and the most ornately costumed set of the night from Afrika Bambaataa N the Soulsonic Force before Bone Thugs-n-Harmony came out for the moment that much of the crowd had been waiting for. Due to the delay and time crunch, the quick breaks between sets were primarily filled by either NWA songs or ads for the NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton.
Toward the end of the half-hour set, Bone Thugs covered bits of NWA, Tupac, and Biggie songs as much of the crowd was now inebriated and excited enough that random make-out sessions and light groping were now visible in most sections of the amphitheatre. While the Game came out during the set for the first guest spot of the evening, I couldn't help but wonder why no bigger names in SoCal hip-hop history had come out for a track or two at some point in the evening. If this was truly "the biggest celebration of hip-hop" in history, where were all the obvious guests?
Following Bone Thugs, a few hundred fans headed to the parking lot as Ice-T played through a small portion of his gangster catalog, with Busta Rhymes coming out for an impromptu speech in the middle. It was a little strange to watch the 57-year-old rap about sex, drugs, and street violence, but by the time Ice-T took the stage, it was pretty much par for the course..
As the clock crept toward 11 p.m. and Ice-T retired for the night, many of the older fans went with him rather than sticking around to watch the Game. If Ice-T decides to put on the Art of Rap Festival again next year or in the future, it would probably make more sense to get two stages closer to the same size, and let each performer play 40-60 minutes rather than only getting a 4-6 songs out before getting hurried off.
A full two-stage experience might also help the show stay closer to on-time, as the Game was scheduled to finish his set at 11:10, but didn't step on the stage until just before 11:00. Performing what was likely the best set of the night, the only 21st century artist on the bill interjected a good dose of crowd interaction and some surprising humor between his hits (even if the majority of the older crowd didn't even know the chorus of "Hate It or Love It"). After every song or two, the Game would pause to say that they were telling him his set was almost over, but he wasn't leaving the stage. At 11:30 on the nose, Irvine literally pulled the plug on the rapper (who now had Bone Thugs on stage with him), cutting the mic off in the middle of the night's umpteenth shoutout to deceased rap and music icons.