A host of old-school hip-hop acts – Ice Cube, Geto Boys, Digital Underground, MC Eiht, Devin the Dude and Yo-Yo – performed for a packed house at the Return of the Legends concert Friday night at Chene Park. It was a throwback evening that celebrated hip-hop’s heritage, focusing on the late 1980s and early 1990s. Here are the highlights:
Most seasoned performer: Ice Cube. During his headlining set, Cube mixed hits from his early years (“How to Survive in South Central,” “A Bitch Iz a Bitch,” “Steady Mobbin’”) with his mid-period (“We Be Clubbin’,” “Check Yo Self”) and songs from Westside Connection (“Gangsta Nation”). Cube worked the crowd like a pro, and had the most raw magnetism of any of the evening’s performers. And realizing it was old-school night, he thankfully didn’t perform any momentum-slowing songs from 2010’s “I Am the West.”
Most (possibly) inebriated performers: I didn’t perform breathalyzer tests on them before they went on, but the Geto Boys appeared to be heavily intoxicated on stage, especially Scarface, who performed a couple of songs standing in the crowd and came back after the group’s set was over so one of the evening’s emcees could take his picture standing in front of the audience. The group’s set still packed a potent punch, though it would have benefitted from a tighter focus; the three members seemed to all be on different pages, and Bushwick Bill disappeared from the stage for large portions of the set.
Biggest fan: Digital Underground’s Shock G, who watched the Geto Boys set while sitting on stage in front of the DJ booth.
Biggest omission: It would have been great to hear Cube pull out “When Will They Shoot,” the stomping opener from “The Predator,” but the Geto Boys not doing their anti-corporate screed “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta” was the biggest head-scratcher of the night.
Most resonant anthem: MC Eiht’s “Streiht Up Menace,” from the soundtrack to 1993’s “Menace II Society,” still feels vital and received one of the biggest ovations of the night. Eiht, who in his oversized T-shirt still looks every bit the gangsta, even with gray stubble dotting his scruff, used it to close his set.
Most surprising cameo: Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J, sans clown makeup, introduced the Geto Boys. (The Geto Boys performed at last month’s Gathering of the Juggalos festival, and they appear on ICP’s “The Mighty Death Pop” album.) Violent J was given a less-than-warm reception from the crowd, but he used his promo skills, honed by years of performing in professional wrestling, to turn the crowd around and get a big ovation for the Geto Boys.
Spottiest set: Smoked-out Houston rapper Devin the Dude, who lacked the hits to sell his performance and whose set begged the question, “how many different ways can one rap about weed?” His only familiar moment that broke through was his performance of “F— You,” from Dr. Dre’s “2001” album.
Biggest weirdo: Digital Underground’s Shock G, who performed half his set, under fake nose and glasses, as his alter ego Humpty Hump before introducing himself to perform the rest of the set. Aside from party jams (“Return of the Crazy One,” “The Humpty Dance”), Digital Underground’s performance favored long, improvised keyboard jams, including an extended intro into 2Pac’s “I Get Around.” The set was challenging and never truly gelled with the crowd.
Most forgotten song: Yo-Yo performed “IBWin Wit My Crewin’” from her 1993 album “You Better Ask Somebody,” a song I haven’t heard or thought about since 1993 but which instantly came back to me when she started into it. Although I still can’t remember what “IBW” stood for.
Best stage banter: MC Eiht, who told the crowd simply, “Detroit, keep it hood. Jeah,” as he was leaving the stage.
Best stage banter, runner-up: Geto Boys’ Bushwick Bill, who after giving props to Proof shouted out ICP, something which never happens at rap concerts in Detroit.
Most political stage banter: Geto Boys’ Willie D., who shouted something about hating the Republican party and then mimed machine gun motions with his hands. So he’s not a Romney fan, then?