Hip-Hop has had its fair share of tragic deaths, luminaries cut down too short in their lives and way too early in their career. And while we often focus on the great heartbreak that Bad Boy experienced as a label with The Notorious B.I.G. or Death Row Records with the loss of Tupac, few ever pause to consider the great weight that Loud Records has had to bear, as one of the premier indie rap labels of the 90s, with the deaths of Big Pun, Prodigy and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Still, on during this historic night, three crews backed by the label’s owner Steve Rifkin and staff, a cast of other supporting artists and the fans paid tribute to three fallen soldiers that have irrevocably changed the way the culture listens to lyrics and defines “legends.”
The first tribute was to the Terror Squad’s Big Pun
Fat Joe has never done an interview or performance and not gave homage to his twin in spirit, Big Pun. But what elevated this night, advancing it from a medley of The Punisher’s top songs, but the cascading spirit of LatinX and Black love showering Radio City like probably never before. From rocking with the Beatnuts to the hood classic “Off the Books,” to moving con mucho sazón with the club banger “Don’t Want to Be a Player” the crowd reminisced back to when the Boriqua/ Moreña camaraderie that the East Coast always knew was pumping loud all across the radio airwaves across the nation.
It was then that Joe and his sister, Remy Ma asked the lights to go down and everyone put their lights up to show honor to their hermano. Flashing in the back, were numerous pictures of Pun hanging with so many of those who loved him. The moment was reverent, but celebratory at the same time. In fact, after the touching moment of what seemed like a galaxy of stars polka dotting the audience, the Terror Squad jumped with “It’s So Hard.” The crowd erupted in approval.
The second tribute was to Mobb Deep’s Prodigy
This was different than the first— clearly shifting in the vibrant culture of the Hispanic Bronx to the Urban war-zone of Queensbridge. The approach to honor P was also different. Where the body of TS joined in and you heard Pun threaded throughout the songs, the Mobb fam chose to tap Prodigy’s children, friends and family to rock his infamous rhymes.
Starting with the Havoc’s eerie signature beats, on the jumbotron you saw flashes of the duo’s almost 30-year career, spanning when they two where The Source‘s “Unsigned Hype” under the moniker of Poetical Prophets, the 4th & Broadway days and their tenure at Loud (which yielded them their most success). Then as “Survival of the Fittest” dropped, you see Hav and on the stage but the person rapping Prodigy’s part. Was it another Mobb member, because contrary to popular belief there are others? No… it is Bando Red, P’s son. Song after song, you see Bando Red personify his pop in his “Infamous” uniform of Camo and bandana. Bando also embodied his dad’s gritty vibe on “Give Up the Goods,” with his Mobb uncle Big Noyd. Many were overwhelmed by what it meant to have him stand in his father’s shoes during this momentous occasion… but then Santana Fox, Prodigy’s 20-year-old daughter, grabbed the mic and started spitting her father’s bars on the uber lyrical, “Keep it Thoro.” Santana Fox was still a teenager when her dad was tragically taken from her (and the world), so to pay tribute to him in this fashion not only was a heavy burden on her shoulders but quite overwhelming for the squad. Havoc, as he had looked out for his brother in the past, check on her to make sure she was good. Babygirl was… after adjusting to the mic she pushed to make her daddy proud. And by the time, “Quiet Storm” dropped and one of her rap icons Lil’ Kim met her on stage, excitement filled her pint-size frame and her spirit was swept up in the powerful energy that rap’s original Queen Bee brought to the stage. Back and forth, the ladies rocked stealing the thunder from Uncle Hav. But what did he care, he knew what this moment meant to the Loud, to the fans and most of all to P.
To round out the performance, Twin Gambino, Chinky, G.O.D. Father, and Ty Knitty performed “Thug Muzik” and Dave East (who has an extensive history in Queensbridge), stood in for P on “Shook Ones.”
The third tribute was to the Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Like Prodigy’s tribute, this was really not separate from the entirety of the concert. This may be due to the fact that both Prodigy and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were not signed to Loud as solo acts— and as individuals were crucial members to the catalog of the groups they were in.
With that said, Young Dirty Bastard performed his dad’s parts in the Wu-Tang Clan’s set.
YDB has been on tour for months with the Wu. And while Bando and Fox, the next generation of Mobb Deep, were relatively new in these performance roles, YDB is a vet at this.
Whether he performed “Shame on a N*gga,” or “Brooklyn Zoo,” he almost manifests the Kemetic identity of Horus that his father, who changed his rap name to Osiris, imparted on him before he died. As the Egyptian god was born to avenge and restore his father’s legacy, so has YDB.
From the twists in his body to the convoluted articulation of each howl that he carefully places between lyric, over melody (almost like a Jazz musician), he has found the nuances of his father that no one has ever seen in a father/son musician pairing.
And with the players of the Wu allowing him space to connect with his father on stage, you see that this is more than just a concert set… this is the welcoming home and the invocation of their brother to be in their midst.
The audience watched as the Wu-Tang’s performance and tribute moved each Hip-Hop enthusiast to either remember (for those who were there) or to imagine (for those who only read about it).
The Violator connection sets the stage for a private honor of Chris Lighty
James Lopez was in the cut, and it reminded one of the artists of the Violator days. Violator had been like a sister company to Loud for a minute. What is the connection? Well, as a management body Chris Lighty’s office nurtured the development of the Terror Squad, Mobb Deep and engaged the Wu-Tang Clan on many occasions. While they paused for the three icons that came out of the label, many also, behind the stage paused to remember Chris Lighty, a man that also added to the success of the acts that Loud so rightfully lifted to the pinnacles of their careers over 25 years ago.
REST IN PEACE to those fallen soldiers of rap.