NXNE 2013: Smif-n-Wessun @ The Drake Underground by Alex Snider

SATURDAY — Running into a friend on Sunday night and sharing our NXNE highlights, telling him about the phenomenal Smif-n-Wesson show at the Drake, I commented that I loved early 90s East Coast rap. His response essentially was "no shit" because, seriously, of course I do – everyone does.

Who doesn't know the genius of Biggie and Nas and Wu-Tang and A Tribe Called Quest? If you have a pulse don't you have to love Afrika Bambaata and Kool DJ Herc and Run DMC? Is The Chronic a near perfect album? YES, yes to all of it. Where would we (SOCIETY) be without East Coast hip hop? Would this generation ever be so familiar with the works of Ray Charles without Kanye's excellent reworking of Gold Digger? Who would Beyonce be snuggling with at Nets games in adorable paparazzi shots? Sure, maybe Ace Hood would still be waking up in a new Bugatti but would life ever be as meaningful and beautiful without Yasiin Bey's dimples? Do I know all the words to Dead Prez's Hip Hop? Of course I fucking do – but who doesn't?

So yes, East Coast rap is amazing and widely acknowledged for it's brilliance and influence – we're all in agreement there. And assumably we can all agree that getting a chance to see Smif-n-Wessun twice in two days was the greatest NXNE gift of all time.

I've been reading Can't Stop, Won't Stop by Jeff Chang that chronicles the early days of hip hop, drawing out the reggae roots and the social unrest from which rap emerged. (It's fantastic and along with MK Asante's It's Bigger Than Hip Hop is essential reading for anyone remotely interested in hip hop.) Watching Smif-n-Wessun perform on Saturday night felt a bit like seeing a live re-inactment of Chang's book. From Steele's Jamaican Patois and reggae beats to leading the crowd in sing-along tributes to fallen comrades ODB, 2-Pac, Biggie and Big L – it was a veritable history of rap condensed into a 40 minute set.

It's surreal to think that I got to see such established talented and legendary artists in such a tiny venue but that's just the magic of NXNE. Usually the most memorable, unreal experiences at NXNE involve seeing artists just starting out that are soon to be massive. (I'll never forget seeing King Khan and the Shriners at the Comfort Zone in 2006.) Rarely do I get to see seminal groups like Smif-n-Wessun in that setting. Smif-n-Wessun put out their first record, the classic Dah Shinin' in 1995 and remains today as one of the most important hip hop records of all time. They were a part of the rap supergroup Bootcamp Clik – the hip hop equivalent of The Avengers. They've collaborated with Heltah Skeltah, Styles P, Bun B and Raekwon.

I can't imagine seeing another act of that caliber in such an intimate setting – think sharing a train car with Nabokov. Steele and Tek really brought it, too. Their rhymes were tight as fuck and their banter top-notch. Nothing is more validating as a fan is seeing artists you love, loving what they do. I'm pretty lenient, generally, of artistic arrogance (my Wu-Tang generator name is Arrogant Specialist, after all) but it just makes life better when an audience is appreciated and valued.

Didn't think I could be more excited for their sixth album (and first since 2011) to drop in October.

Find all of our coverage of NXNE here.

Alex Snider is a fighter, rider, lighter, flame ignitor, crowd exciter. She can be found on Twitter at @what_freshhell.


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