An enticing bill of oppositional hip-hop at Crossroads KC was the main attraction of Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest on Saturday. The gleefully subversive group De La Soul headlined a show that featured a vibrant parade of gifted performers who decried the ostensible vacuity of mainstream music while boasting about the superiority of their beat-based sounds. For the most part, their bold self-assessments were validated.
“3 Feet High and Rising,” De La Soul’s revelatory 1989 debut, proved that a hip-hop album could be just as artfully odd as a release by the most eccentric rock and R&B artists. The New York group’s prescient approach has won it new generations of admirers. About 2,000 people heard De La Soul’s one-hour set on Saturday.
Loyal fans of De La Soul were distressed to discover that Dave and Posdnuos weren’t joined by Maseo, the third member of the trio. Even though selections from the 1990s like “Stakes Is High” and “I Am I Be” demonstrated that the music is aging remarkably well, the charismatic Maseo was sorely missed.
Nothing about Talib Kweli’s outing was disappointing. Assisted by the elite producer Hi-Tek, Kweli’s performance resembled a 45-minute master class on the history of hip-hop. The Brooklyn native spoke passionately about the music’s evolution and social significance. He said that “hip-hop is the greatest unifying force on the planet” and suggested that the form is a “tool of social justice.”
Vibrant revivals of “Re: Definition,” a track from his 1998 collaboration with Mos Def, and his 2002 solo hit “Get By” affirmed his assertion. Kweli’s set wasn’t entirely scholarly. He reprised his bawdy verse from Kanye West’s “Get Em High.”
Stik Figa demonstrated that he possesses a bit of the lyrical dexterity associated with Kweli in readings of material from his impressive new release “Central Standard Time.” The clever Topeka rapper noted that “eagles don’t fit in pigeon holes” on “Down Payment” and pined for “a slice of the pie that America divides” on “Oldtown 95.” Steddy P and the members of his Kansas City based Indyground crew opened the show with party-oriented hip-hop that was fortified by DJ Mahf’s emphatic beats.
Ro Ransom was the odd man out. Wearing what he called “skinny, shiny-ass pants,” the New York based artist played a calculated amalgamation of the trendy sounds associated with the wavy hit-maker Future and garbled rappers like Lil Uzi Vert. It’s precisely the sort of music that the four other acts on Saturday’s bill vehemently attempted to invalidate.