‘Old school’ was the term of the night at 97.9 Mega’s Summer Jam.
Technically, most of the performers came out of the golden age of hip hop (the mid ’80s to early ’90s), but the old-school phrase was invoked early and often by each act. The show ran nearly four hours and drew an almost half-full crowd Friday night to Selland Arena. The crowd was eager and jumpin’, but lacked the energy that comes with a packed house.
The show did represent the old school of hip hop. For the majority of the night, it was just MCs and DJs working the crowd, with the “put your hands in the air” call-in-response and 2/4 cadence that came to define the genre early on, thanks to guys like Melle Mel (who performed alongside Grandmaster’s Furious Five and the Sugar Hill Gang).
The female rap group JJ Fad, which features Fresno native MC JB, performed alongside founding NWA member Arabian Prince and had the most energetic set of the night.
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Sir Mix-A-Lot, who recalled hustling out of the back of his car in the alley of Warnors Theatre at his first show in Fresno in 1987, was the most engaging and made me regret having not seen him at Fulton 55 in October.
Crazy-haired Coolio took the stage with a full band dressed in stark white and pulled off jazzed-up versions of “Fantastic Voyage” and “Gangster’s Paradise.”
Vanilla Ice’s odd production included a drummer named Ninja Keith, two dancing clowns and a large cartoon skeleton that loomed over the stage menacingly.
The format of the night – allowing each artist just enough time to get through his or her hit (or hits) – really worked. The quick turnover between performers kept the show from dragging, although the audience started streaming out once Vanilla Ice played “Ice Ice Baby” (even with the house lights down and Ice still on stage).
▪ Somebody, anybody, please make some noise for these guys.
▪ Tickets said the start time was 7:30 p.m. That was no joke. I was in the arena by 7:35 p.m. and almost missed Newcleus.
▪ Apparently the genre has evolved enough that it’s now OK for rappers to cover other rappers. For instance, Ton Loc’s version of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.”
▪ Did Vanilla Ice really write “Ice Ice Baby,” when he was 16?
▪ The concert’s sponsor, Own a Car Fresno, certainly got its money’s worth.
▪ The concert did well enough to warrant a follow-up Old School Party Jam. That show, Saturday, Sept. 17, will also be at Selland and feature Salt-N-Pepa, Color Me Badd and C+C Music Factory.