Public Enemy gives a timely, politically-charged performance at The Art of Rap

Public Enemy at The Art of Rap at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.
Tom Donoghue
Mike Pizzo

Four stars

The Art of Rap July 23, Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.

“How many people are in their 40s out there? If you were born in the ’70s, make some noise,” cried Naughty by Nature’s Treach, clearly appealing to audience’s largest demographic. This was the scene at Ice-T’s Art of Rap tour stop on Saturday night, when a handful of hip-hop pioneers alternated sets with the architects of modern rap at Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.

Mobb Deep performed surprisingly early, running through a handful of classic cuts like “Survival of the Fittest” and “Shook Ones (Part II),” from 1995’s defining album The Infamous Mobb Deep. The youngest group on the bill—but “old” by millennial standards—Havoc and Prodigy somehow kept the curse words to a minimum, it being an outdoor show and all.

Kurtis Blow approached the stage looking much like an unchanged silhouette of his 1979 self. Pulling from a grab bag of his best-known tracks, he blessed the mic with cuts such as “Basketball,” “Christmas Rappin’” and “The Breaks,” the latter adorned with a b-boy showcase from the Air Force Crew.

'The Art of Rap'

By the time Naughty by Nature’s set began, the crowd was nicely warmed up, and so was Treach. He appeared shirtless, armed with a bottle of Hennessey—and his profanity filter removed.

“F*ck Donald Trump! Bitch ass saying he’s going to build a wall. Then we’re going underground,” declared Treach, loud enough for passersby outside the venue to hear.

Peppering the set with tributes to Biggie and 2Pac, Treach poured brown liquor on the face of his forearm tattoo, as a salute to his fallen friend.

“When I drink, you drink,” Treach said to Pac’s ink visage. “When I ride on these bitch-ass mother*ckers that tried to stop you, you ride on these bitch-ass mother*ckers that tried to stop you,” perhaps alluding to Shakur’s assassination in the same city.

The group’s recognizable, chart-topping hits were arguably the biggest moment of the night, with some 50 people onstage, texting and playing Pokémon Go. Sadly, I did not have my “Are You Down With O.P.P.?” T-shirt from freshman year at Chaparral to properly represent at this moment.

A reunited EPMD, as well as the Sugar Hill Gang, gave decent performances, making way for the main event, Public Enemy.

“These are all of our heroes performing on this stage tonight,” Chuck D said, saluting the groups of the late-’70s and early-’80s that came before P.E.

The politically charged performance couldn’t have been more timely, as the message of songs like “Fight the Power” and “911 Is a Joke” still echo loudly in today’s hot political climate. P.E. brought the noise appropriately, with Chuck, Flavor Flav and Professor Griff simultaneously leaping across the stage, as their backing band delivered live versions of their most beloved hits, with multi-colored fists in the air.

“Stay woke, stay woke, stay woke,” Chuck said, adopting the modern hashtag of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As Flavor Flav showed off some skills slapping the bass, the show came to a close with “Shut ’em Down,” interpolating pieces of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” for a dope live mashup.

Things thinned out by midnight, late for us wrinkled, graying rap fans. Audience and artists went home with a sense of nostalgia and mutual appreciation—a feeling best encapsulated by a lyric from Sugar Hill Gang’s O.G. rap hit “Rapper’s Delight”: “And guess what, America? We love you.”

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