Afrika Bambaataa/Slum Village: El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles

HIP-HOP’S PAST and present converged at the El Rey Theatre on Thursday, and the results were predictably erratic. The first act, Slum Village, is a Detroit trio that has internalized all the lessons to be learned from its old De La Soul and Jungle Brothers albums.

The group’s 2000 debut album, The Fantastic, Vol. 2, evoked the playful spirit of that ’90s era of enlightened rap without slavishly recreating it. The group members, who possessed the sly, unassuming mien of schoolyard pranksters, worked the El Rey crowd as if they were trying to earn their B-boy bona fides. They bumped and bounced words against each other and finished each others’ sentences, railed against lewd rappers and celebrated their own skills. The band’s new material, from its forthcoming album, was equally invigorating.

Afrika Bambaataa, the rap pioneer whose electro-funk record ‘Planet Rock’ is a touchstone hip-hop text, closed out the night with a sluggish DJ set. Bambaataa seemed to be operating without a compass, spinning old-school records in a desultory fashion while veteran rapper Melle Mel tried to cheerlead, imploring the crowd to give it up for the “legendary, unforgettable” Bambaataa. The DJ didn’t even attempt to foreground his own legacy — ‘Planet Rock’ was just another record thrown into the muddy mix.

© Marc WeingartenLos Angeles Times, 4 May 2002

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