For anyone that pulled up to or walked past the Canopy Club this past Saturday, the mild summer weather was most likely broken by the abnormally long line that stretched from the Canopy to the front door of the University of Illinois’ music building.
A mumbling swarm of rabid hip-hop fans descended from towns around Champaign-Urbana, and even as far as St. Louis, to watch the Canopy Club play host to a hip-hop bill that had landed on the cornfields, and left just as big of an impact.
When the masses were finally let into the Canopy Club, and the lights dimmed, several people expressed audible concern at the sight of someone being given CPR on stage. Having risen from his watery coma, and wearing a shirt that classified him as a “Category 4 Hurricane,” Jay Electronica ran swiftly through a set that paid tribute to some of hip-hop’s past and more recent fallen heroes, namely the Notorious B.I.G. and the late J Dilla.
Keeping the crowd worked to a feverish pace, he hurdled through common sense verses, managing to do so while wearing a hat most likely stolen from Jack Nicklaus, and bearing a staff reminiscent of bad D&D role-play. When he left the stage, he left a screaming crowd, and more than enough energy for the giants that would follow.
When Brooklyn resident Talib Kweli hit the stage, the venue saw its first eruption into an explosion of familiar verses, fan favorites, spiritual call and response, and hands that never left the sky. Kweli ran the gamut of his discography, starting with the more recent, and moving further into some of the classics he penned as part of Reflection Eternal (with DJ Hi-Tek), and Black Star (with Mos Def), leaving just enough breathing room for fans to scream lines at the top of their lungs, rendering them appropriately breathless, save for the cheers at the end of each song.
It was the buildup to Nas, however, that proved nearly unbearable, as the time stretched mercilessly in the midst of the humid and crowded front stage. But, after sweating bullets for some time, Nas emerged to a burst of newly found energy from the crowd, rendering the heat ignorable. Many concert goers had feared that Nas would only do material from his most recent release The N. Nas, however, burned a one hour set that spanned nearly all of his releases, the ones with the warmest response being those from Illmatic and It Was Written, including “NY State of Mind,” “The World is Yours,” and “If I Ruled the World.”
When he slammed everything he had left into “One Mic,” Nas leaned on the fans as support, as the sore-throated and winded Griot gave his last tributes to C-U, and left his DJ to ask for “Peace!” as a last farewell.
When the lights came on, the energy was still in the air, the crowd hoping for one last glimpse, or one final word from anyone who had gripped the microphone that night. Honestly, it was one of the best hip-hop shows to hit C-U in a long while, save for the absence of a local hip-hop opener.
Truly this lineup showed that hip-hop is neither dead, nor its contributors forgotten. It lives in the headphones, hearts and minds of the listeners, waiting to be woken up.
Photos by Justine Bursoni