Houston Chronicle, July 27, 1987
By Marty Racine:
Now it was the boys' turn to crow.
Friday night at the Astrodome we stared directly into the reason behind Madonna's popularity: her appeal to teenage girls, who only want to dress up, get out, dance all night and, in their wildest dreams, be universally popular and reap success in a material world.
Saturday night at the "Together Forever" rap concert in The Summit, we flipped the coin and looked at the boys' side: They want to dress up, get out, dance most of the night, have plenty of sexual conquests and be "bad."
That's what the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC gave them, that ideal of being untouchable in a crowd. Coolness is at the heart of both, but if Madonna's world is one of glamour, rap's is one of survival, a combination of physical strength and street smarts. It's the sound of big, bad New York City, a town apparently on the fritz, exported to the hinterlands by MTV and black radio. It's the language of the cacophonous urban jungle, a big boast done to a big beat, where the loudest and most shocking voice gets heard.
"Together Forever" has been on the road for months now, and while "incidents" have been absent or minimal, the youth gang riot that stopped a Run-DMC show in Long Beach, Calif., last year has been permanently embossed on the group's reputation. Politicians, police and promoters in a number of tour cities have been understandably wary.
It is to Houston's credit, though, that we took this show pretty much in stride. We didn't--I certainly didn't--expect any violence. For all our own reputation and size, Houston is laid back. As Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay said in the wake of Long Beach, the second-biggest city in the Los Angeles area, "Run-DMC is not the problem; L.A. (with its large number of youth gangs) is the problem."
Nevertheless, all patrons--about 14,000 of them--got electronically frisked for weapons before entering The Summit. I have been going to concerts for more than 20 years, have headed into the sleaziest and rowdiest of crowds, and have never seen anything like it. We put our keys in a plastic tray and passed through the gate with the invisible sensors. Yes, it has come to this. Paranoia runs deep. Next, we'll see this at ball games, heaven forbid.
But yeah, this was a unique crowd, almost 50-50 black and white, with a sizable number of Chicanos. Since rock 'n' roll evolved (partly) out of rhythm and blues almost four decades ago, the rap phenomenon represents the re-integration of popular music. It is a surprising development to see white kids feeling comfortable with "getting down" to a groove other than rock. It is even more surprising to witness the universality of a language born in New York City only 10 years ago.
I even felt a strong tinge of brotherhood, given the history of race relations in this country and given the parochialism of most concerts, though "Run" (Joseph Simmons) was good at exploiting misconceptions. "They say, 'Oh, you're gonna have violence at your shows,'" he told the crowd. "But I see black people, I see whites together--in fact I don't see no color; I only see party people!"
Indeed, "Fight for Your Right to Party" is what the white Beastie Boys admonished in their encore, as if they've hit on a new Bill of Rights. Black people and white people and brown people partying together, I suppose, is a strong enough social statement. Beyond that, rap appears incapable or unwilling to raise further consciousness. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. We're going to be partying when someone pushes the button.
No, the most radical message in rap is self-sufficiency, "articulated" by sexual prowess and profanity. The bratty beer-spraying and phallicism of the Beasties' recent Summit show was toned down a bit Saturday. Instead, the Boys seemed more interested in a dialogue--insults were the medium of exchange--with their audience. In fact, their opening act had more of an edge than that of headliners Run-DMC. You didn't quite know what to expect.
With Jam Master Jay at the controls of his turntable on a back riser and cuing his discs in sync with a laser depiction of same, Run and DMC (Darryl McDaniels) opened with "My Adidas," a salute to the kind of urban footwear that gives one speed and mobility on city streets. They strutted the mean strut, rapped back and forth at one another, cussed, grabbed their crotches, prowled the stage and addressed Houston "to make some noise!"
Theirs was a slicker, tighter performance than the Beastie Boys'. It was also a short set, or so it seemed. It was over in a New York hour when they called the Beasties back onstage for a together-forever jam on "Walk This Way" (the basic track recorded, of course), the old Aerosmith song that melds rock and rap. The lights came up and it was over with no encore.
In the technological age it should not be surprising to see thousands pay good money to attend a "concert" with no live music. And yet, if the imagination can fill in the cracks, rap does have familial ties with rock. In a recent interview, Run told me that the rappers first rapped over rock, not disco, records. And that incessant beat, that insouciant attitude, sounds like the inevitable evolution of punk rock, which the Beastie Boys themselves were trying to play five years ago.
So it is the language of modern urban America. Better get used to it. It might even progress in adopting more musicality and a larger social awareness. Until then, however, rap's legacy is that all races are bound by one need: to party.