Nas at 2017 California Roots Festival | Photo, Cali Roots
By Marcos Cabrera
So Voices of Monterey Bay commissioned me, the 831’s second oldest local media b-boy (DJ Kazzeo is the eldest elder statesmen in this limited category), to deliberate on the Central Coast’s most memorable hip-hop show.
Before I get into that, I’ll offer up, unsolicited, my first experiences with live hip-hop music locally.
It began at a late ‘80s club called City Limits in the Nob Hill complex on South Main Street (it once housed the County Elections Office). There, as an eighth-grader, I saw acts like Kid Frost and Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, as well as freestyle legends like Timmy T, Johnny O and Stevie B (freestyle artists sure do love three-syllable stage names, huh?).
Don’t know what my parents were thinking letting me go to nightclubs at age 12, but things turned out okay.
Away from home, Santa Cruz has offered a whole bunch of stuff dating back to when legendary DJ Bubba G. Scotch (RIP) helped bring Afrika Bambaata to the Central Coast in the early ‘80s.
At the old club Palookaville, a memory that sticks out was a mind-altering triple bill with Cee-Lo Green’s first group Goodie Mob, my all time hip-hop heroes De La Soul and, for some odd reason, Fishbone as the headliner.
One of my favorite Catalyst shows was Keak da Sneak headlining at the peak of the Hyphy movement, a few days after the release of his collaboration with E-40, “Tell Me When To Go.”
Speaking of 40 Water, his perfectly scheduled early evening set at Cali Roots 2017 was one of the most live hip-hop shows I’ve been to locally. The festival really needs to bring him back along with UB40, just to fulfill my personal fantasy of watching E-40 and UB40 collaborate on stage.
Circling back to the whole point of this column, Cali Roots Festival 2017 was also the site of what I feel is the 831’s most important hip-hop moment. When Nas took the stage on May 26 to headline the festival’s coveted Saturday night slot, the “Bowl” was packed to capacity.
It should be noted that Cali Roots is not a Golden Era ‘90s hip-hop crowd. As a big Nas supporter, I was nervous about the response. Bringing nostalgic East Coast boom-bap to a West Coast reggae rock concert was a curious gamble for Dan Sheehan and the Cali Roots organizers.
It paid off when Nas, after a set featuring most of the tracks from his debut masterpiece “Illmatic” delivered with military air strike precision, brought music legend Quincy Jones onstage and out of nowhere. Suddenly, music royalty/black excellence was on full display at the birthplace of the American pop music festival.
A moment that was more likely to go down at the Monterey Jazz Festival instead popped off at Cali Roots. Q wasn’t just giving Nas a co-sign on stage that night. With his presence, he was christening Cali Roots as a big shot player in the music industry.
Nas later captured the event’s weight with an Instagram post showing Quincy giving Nas dap at the Festival.
“When u hang out with @bhorowitz0 and Quincy Jones all day and do a Show at Cali Roots and leave the stage with Big Quincys approval it’s so Real,” read the post. “Quincy paved the way and can hang out longer than I can.”
Jordan Caballero, a longtime festival employee who has served as a festival artist transportation coordinator, said security was extra tight that night with Jones in attendance. But the legendary producer, who was feted a few months prior with a main stage tribute at the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival, reportedly wanted to come and show Nas support on that specific stage.
“That stage has amazing history,” said Caballero.
Nas and Q added to that history with a nod between their respective generations.
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