As we settled into a warm summer evening at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, we couldn’t help feel we were about to witness something uniquely epic. The Word of Mouth tour, which is circling the U.S. this July and August, is no doubt historic. It celebrates the 20th anniversary of Jurassic 5; the first time in 10 years that the legendary Quannum Projects collective from Davis, CA (DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab, Chief Xcel, and Lateef) is back on stage all together, as well as the upcoming LP from underground champions Dilated Peoples, dubbed Directors of Photography. By the time the night wound to a close, the epic feeling was cemented in our minds.
It was only moments after we strolled into the Greek’s beautiful, airy amphitheater, that Dilated Peoples swept onto stage, with members Evidence and Rakaa diving headfirst into much-loved tracks, including “Worst Comes to Worst.” They immediately had the audience involved, with special guest MC Supernatural throwing down a wicked crowd-pleasing freestyle as DJ Babu worked the 1s and 2s. By the time they got to “This Way,” the crowd was on its feet, and a high-energy night was officially underway. When Dilated Peoples is the opener, you know you’re in for something special. Needless to say they left us more excited than ever for August 12th, when Directors of Photography drops. Pre-order that shit here.
We barely had enough time to catch our collective breath before DJ Shadow co-opted the intermission with a fresh, live mix that was a tribute to three decades of Bay Area hip hop and R&B. As the audience packed closer together and stretched their dancing limbs, Shadow dropped classics from E-40, Hiero’s “Mistadobalina”, The Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It,” to Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance.” It was capped off by a ribcage-rattling version of DJ Shadow’s own “Building Steam With a Grain of Salt,” as he played the drum sequence live.
As dusk settled, the next hour proved to be a glee-inducing, whirlwind performance of hit after hit by the various members of Quannum Projects. Latyrx (Lyrics Born and Lateef) came first, performing “Say That,” with Lyrics Born then going solo with “I Like It, I Love It” and “Callin’ Out.” Gift of Gab joined the fray with DJ Xcel, as Blackalicious, getting the crowd hyped up with “Deception” and a hooded DJ Cut Chemist scratching for a raucous “Alphabet Aerobics.” Blackalicious even dropped “Blacka” – a punchy-as-fuck slammer off their coming-soon-album, Imani, after a nearly two-year wait. Finally, there was a collective orgasm from Bay Area hip hop lovers as Quannum capped off an incredible set with the biggest surprise of the night, inviting Tajai and the entire Souls of Mischief crew on stage with them to perform “93 til’ Infinity.”
All of this was backdrop for Jurassic 5, who took the stage to a buzzed-up crowd under the biggest disco ball I’ve ever seen. I felt blessed to have seen J5 perform at Outside Lands last year — but hearing Chali 2na’s buttery voice live twice in one year? Ehrmagerd!
J5 started off with a few of their earliest tracks, with a sound so clean it felt as though you were listening to the album. The 4 MCs sounded as one as they took it up a notch, hitting a perfectly synched “Jayou” and Akil went from MC to b-boy, breaking it down on stage. DJs Cut Chemist and Nu Mark threw the doors wide open, with Nu Mark presenting a clinic on scratching while sitting at a school desk, and Cut Chemist using a massive turntable and some creative drum machines to bust out Dead Prez’ “Hip Hop” and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What,” pushing the crowd into an absolute frenzy. From there, it was straight up dance fest for 45 minutes as J5 harmonized and flowed across all the stops, including “Quality Control” and capping it all off with “What’s Golden.”
Thus ended an awesome night for Bay Area and West Coast hip-hop, that felt more like a coming home party than anything else. The warm energy befitted the warm evening, and it felt like seeing your good friends perform on stage. The MCs must have felt the same vibe when they took an epic selfie with the crowd as the lights dimmed one last time.