This may be a Canadian blog focused on Hip-Hop concert reviews in Toronto, but sometimes I’ll be out traveling, and if there’s a piece of Hip-Hop history taking place, I try to make it a point to go see it. While spending some time in New York City, I found that Styles P was putting on a special concert celebrating a milestone, and would be headlining along with some of his legendary friends and peers at Irving Plaza. Slated to be joined by fellow members of The LOX, Jadakiss & Sheek Louch, plus Havoc of Mobb Deep, Smoke DZA, Nems and others, Styles P was sure to serve up an authentic New York Hip-Hop experience this evening, similar to what his crew gave a taste of at the infamous LOX vs Dipset Verzuz event that took place just over a year ago.
It was in July 2002 that Styles released his debut solo album, A Gangster and a Gentleman, and in August that year released the lead single off of that album, “Good Times.” Up to that point, The LOX had released two albums as a group, 1998’s Money, Power & Respect with Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records and 2000’s We Are The Streets with Ruff Ryders, and had started to roll out solo albums, Jadakiss being first with his debut Kiss Tha Game Goodbye in 2001. Not to be outdone by his partner-in-rhyme, Styles P came out with the Swizz Beatz production, ingeniously flipping a sample from 1977’s “I Get High (On Your Memory)” by Freda Payne to create an all-time weed smokers’ anthem. Fast forward to 2022, and we’re now celebrating the 20th anniversary of what became the biggest single of Styles P’s career, an undisputable, timeless classic when it comes to New York Hip-Hop, and an anthem that can stand with the Snoop Doggs, B-Reals, Method Mans and Redmans as synonymous with cannabis culture.
The concert would take place at Irving Plaza in Manhattan, an iconic location formerly known as The Fillmore that’s hosted names like Paul McCartney, DMX, and countless others in the past. Being from out of town, this was of course my first time seeing a show at the venue, and I took my time checking out the layout, seeing the posters along the stairs to the stage area. The merch booth had some fly t-shirts Styles P had made specially for this show with “Irving Plaza” written on the back, and also some new legal cannabis products being launched for the first time. After grabbing some drinks, the show would eventually get started with Brooklyn’s own Pretty Lou hosting. Having a major presence in New York radio, the crowd was hyped to see him as he shouted out every borough and told a story about how he won an 8-year battle with cancer. I gained a new appreciation for New York’s tradition of asking which boroughs are in the building, as commuting to Manhattan from any other borough (Queens in my case) can be missions.
Pretty Lou would introduce each artist to hit the stage, and the first few were surprise openers who weren’t featured on the promoted lineup. Some were local artists from Yonkers, the Bronx, and Harlem, although there were some out of towners too. Some standouts included Chicago’s K’Valentine, who got in her zone with songs like “Anti Chiraq” and “Family,” and Harlem’s Nino Man, who rocked some joints off his Better Late Than Never album. I was admittedly unfamiliar with many of the artists to hit the stage, but it didn’t matter as most came with raw raps, with minimal overlapping vocals. Being in the mecca of Hip-Hop, every single artist who hit the stage took time to spit an acapella verse, removing any gimmicks and just going in on the mic.
There would be different DJs spinning records during the breaks between emcees, one notable set being New York legend Statik Selektah. Statik had a dope technique where he’d tease the original song used to make a sample, then play the Hip-Hop track that flipped the sample. Harlem’s own Smoke DZA would follow Statik’s set and rocked the mic with a ton of energy, performing songs like “500 Thousand” and the Pete Rock-produced “Milestone.” DJ Scram Jones would get to spin afterwards, before Coney Island’s Nems took over and rocked the crowd with “Gahbage” and “Bing Bong,” plus a dope acapella freestyle.
Having been keeping the crowd engaged throughout the night, Pretty Lou had his own dope segment with his DJ, shouting out each borough of New York and playing a medley of songs by artists from those boroughs. He’d play some Mobb Deep and Nas for Queens, The Diplomats for Harlem, Big Pun and Fat Joe for the Bronx, and Jay-Z and Biggie for Brooklyn, notably skipping over Staten Island (no love for Wu-Tang?). There would be a few more artists to hit the stage after this, including a set by Tony Moxberg that ended with him performing his song “Love,” which features The LOX. Soon it would be time for the main event.
While The LOX could have easily come out as a group and rocked the stage together, they recognized that this night was a celebration of Styles P’s individual legacy, and so Sheek Louch and Jadakiss came out separately to warm up the crowd for their brother. They came out to the brand-new single released just last week, the Public Enemy-influenced “Terminator LOX,” although they didn’t actually perform the track. Instead, Jada and Sheek would take turns rocking a medley of verses and bigging each other up along the way. Sheek would perform his verse from “24 Hours to Live,” and Jadakiss would follow with his verse from Nas’ “Made You Look (Remix).” Sheek would rock his verse from Jay-Z’s “Reservoir Dogs,” and Jada would follow with his own “By Your Side.”
Sheek and ‘Kiss would continue to rock the crowd with familiar LOX joints like “Wild Out” and Jadakiss’ solo “Put Ya Hands Up,” the crowd knowing all the words to rap along to. Next, they’d get into some rarities, Sheek spitting a freestyle over Mobb Deep’s “The Learning (Burn),” and Jada going in over Jay-Z’s “Where I’m From.” They would perform a couple more tracks and bring out a guest artist from Philly to spit a freestyle, and eventually it was time to bring out the man of the hour, Styles P.
Styles came out to the title track off of A Gangster and a Gentleman, a fitting opener as the verses in the song play like an autobiography. After energizing the crowd, Styles would give a speech acknowledging the occasion we were celebrating, and then proceeded to go in. He’d perform the Pharoahe Monch-assisted “The Life” before captivating the crowd with an acapella freestyle of his own, and continued with classics like “Fuck You” and “Super Gangster.” Next, he’d dig into his mixtape bag, pulling out rarities like “Switch My Style,” “Still Bangin” and other freestyles.
Being in front of a crowd that appreciates raw raps and bar-heavy lyricism, there would be several freestyles by the artists on stage, plus some surprises. Dave East would make a surprise appearance and spit a verse, and Styles, Sheek and Jadakiss each took turns rocking freestyles, calling for tequila shots to be brought to the stage. Styles would make it a point to re-introduce Jadakiss before Jada pulled out that “Who Shot Ya” freestyle that stole the show at the LOX vs Dipset Verzuz. Now being a classic verse that’s fresh in New York’s memory, the crowd joined in and shouted out the punchlines with ‘Kiss, with the rest of the LOX crew bigging him up. Styles would come back with his verse from Rick Ross’ “B.M.F.,” and brought back Jadakiss for their back-and-forth on the classic “We Gonna Make It.” The crowd all joined in for that first bar: “Fuck. The. Frail. Shit.”
To close out the show, The LOX got all the stage lights to turn red and Styles P performed the song we were all there to celebrate, “Good Times.” All the smokers in the crowd lit up, and we all turned up as Styles killed his verses on the track, his DJ flipping the sample and letting the famous loop from the chorus play out. They’d then go into the anthem “Mighty D-Block,” just doing the chorus for the crowd to sing along to, then ended the show by letting “Terminator LOX” play again as they said peace.
Overall, this was a great celebration of an important piece of New York Hip-Hop history. Besides larger festivals like Rock The Bells or The Roots Picnic, this was my first real New York rap concert at a smaller venue, and I can say the New York energy is different. All the artists, DJs and even the audience have pride in representing whichever borough they’re from, and they make it a point to make it clear which borough they put on for. Every emcee to bless the stage also made it a point to rap acapella at some point during their set, putting a focus on the bars more than the wave, as that’s what the New York crowd listens for.
Styles P and The LOX put on an incredible show full of both familiar classics and rarities for the hardcore fans. They’ve said in interviews following the LOX vs Dipset Verzuz that any of the three of them could be the star at any given live performance, and that they’re all able to adapt accordingly. They showed that here by making sure Styles shined the most for this event celebrating his legacy, with Sheek and Jadakiss both holding their positions. It was kind of disappointing that Havoc of Mobb Deep never showed up – I was looking forward to seeing some songs off his new album with Styles P, Wreckage Manner, get performed, plus of course some throwback Mobb Deep classics. It was still a dope show though, as every emcee killed their performances, and Styles got New York united behind him.
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