Half way through his set at Paid Dues, Kurupt paused to say, “They say the West Coast doesn’t have lyrics.” It was a statement that made you realize that if there was any show, any festival that would refute that claim, it would be this year’s West Coast heavy installment of Paid Dues. Consider the common misconceptions of West Coast music: violent, misogynistic, and gang affiliated. While this may describe a portion of West Coast music, it in no way depicts the incredible diversity that the Golden State has to offer.
On April 3rd at the NOS Events Center, Paid Dues ushered in its 5th anniversary in style. While artists such as Necro, Freeway, and Raekwon demonstrated what artists not from the left coast had to offer, this was a day dedicated, for the most part, to the diverse soundscape of the West Coast. In fact, many of the artists on the two stages at the festival this year were locals who started their careers in Los Angeles. From the soulfully laidback sounds of People Under The Stairs to the hometown heroes Psycho Realm (does any other underground hip-hop crew from L.A. have more devoted fans than they do?) to the triple optics of the Dilated Peoples, this sold out show offered some of the best underground talent from the West Coast.
If there is one phrase to sum up some of the artists at Paid Dues it would be “long overdue.” Consider just a couple of the firsts that Paid Dues has brought to fans since 2005: first performance of FELT, first West Coast performance of Slaughterhouse, and along with this the debut of countless material, which hip-hop fans now consider classic. The theme of long overdue started when the Dilated Peoples took the stage. In addition to prompting EV’s upcoming Cats and Dogs LP (Rhymesayers) with the help of Alchemist ,the CA All Day surgeon Rakaa performed a “few light bars” off of his highly anticipated Crown of Thorns(Decon) solo debut . This is an album that has been long overdue and to see him perform even a few bars from it was exciting. It is clear that the Dilated Peoples through their individual projects are going to have a lot for us to talk about this year and hopefully EV’s statement regarding the next group album (sometime next year they will start on it) will be the next thing to look forward to. Until then, their set featuring “This Way,” “Worst Comes to Worst” and “Angles” provided a glimpse of the classics in their catalogue.
While projects being long overdue are nothing new in the music industry, artists being asked to perform at this festival for the first time was another matter completely. Because they are labeled “Gangsta Rappers,” the The Dogg Pound are often left out of the discussion of great hip-hop crews, but after watching their set that featured Rosco, Lady of Rage, Soopafly, and classic cuts such as “Big Pimpin’,” “Ride With Us” and “What Would You Do,” clearly they are one of the most influential crews to ever come out of the West Coast. From performing tracks off of both of Dre’s albums to Kurupt debuted “I’m Burnt” off his new album Streetlights (4/20), the tandem, more than any other group that day, had the audience dancing, singing, and rhyming along to nearly every song that was performed. No fighting. It was nothing but love for two of the best from the West.
Closing out the night were two MCs who know what it is like to be a member of crews who represent different shades of the West: Murs and Ice Cube. From the coast that is known for its surf and shine, the Paid Dues President Murs took the stage with 9th Wonder. In a set that featured only music produced by 9th Wonder, fans were treated to classic cuts such as “L.A.” , “And This is For”, “Walk Like A Man”. Much like five years ago, Murs debuted new material: “Problem Is” featuring Sick Jacken, who took the stage with him for the song, and “Asian Girl” featuring 9th Wonder on the mic. These two tracks off of Fornever (4/13) are just the latest examples of why Murs is one of the best story tellers in the game. Part of this story telling comes from his awareness of the significance of any situation. “It amazes me that I could be on the same stage as Freestyle Fellowship, Ice Cube…some of us have been on the radio, others have not. “
Closing the night was Ice Cube. This West Coast icon made it a point to remind everyone who runs the West Coast. Cube’s next album, I Am the West, is seemingly aimed at artists in this “New West” Movement. Cube addressed this during his set, “This new West…I haven’t heard of it. I have a message to all young MCs. I got love, but if you diss the Old West, I got a problem. You can’t diss Dr. Dre, Eazy E, Ice T, King T, Ice Cube. You better check yourself. ” While this could easily seem just like a segue into his next song, it clearly was a message directed at a very specific group, which could turn into the first truly interesting hip-hop beef in a long time. “I Rep that West,” the first single off his next album, was performed for the first time, and he also performed a rough-mix of “Drink the Kool-Aid.” The most interesting thing about both of these tracks is how they seemed to stun the audience. For an album that is all about the West, the sound doesn’t have that hardcore West Coast sound. Despite the lyrics being typical Ice Cube, the production seems anything but. However, the audience didn’t come to see Cube do his new music. Cube asking the crowd if they wanted to hear old or new music stated that he was in the right place when the crowd thunderously stated that they didn’t want new music, only the old, which explains why the fans were really into his performance when he did his old music and on their phones when he switched to his newer creations.
While Murs may have put this show together and Cube may have closed it out, it was five Goodlifers and Project Blowdians that stole the night and reminded fans what this festival was really all about. While the number one independent artist, Tech N9ne was performing his rapid fire flow on the main stage, Aceyalone, Myka Nyne, P.E.A.C.E., Self Jupiter, and DJ Kilu were outside rocking the much smaller outdoor stage. While it seems strange that a reunion such as this would take place anywhere but on the main stage, after watching their set, it made perfect sense. The Fellowship are about connecting with the people. “Inner City Boundaries,” “Shammy,” “Cornbread,” “Slappy The Happy Killer Clown,” and “Tolerate” were some of the classics these skat, stream of conscious rappers blessed the crowd with in their 40 minute set. The biggest blessing was near the end when the Fellowship performed new music: “I freestyle with my fellowship.” As the group took a bow, Lucky, who introduced the crew, got the crowd to give the Fellowship one last round of applause: “These guys up here have influenced everybody in the game. Not just my crew.”
While there first show was over, the second show was about it begin. Making their way to the vendors, the Fellowship took pictures, signed autographs, and even had an impromptu freestyle session at the Streetwise Gear booth. From fans seeking freestyle advice and asking questions about classic cuts to just making themselves accessible, the Freestyle Fellowship epitomize what this independent festival is all about. From conscious to gangsta, freestyle to written, jazzy to grimy, Paid Dues showed what hip-hop is like at its most influential, diverse, and creative.