The Art of Cool Festival

Saturday, Sep. 28, 2019

Downtown Durham

Night two of Art of Cool was an ode to hip-hop legends, with performances by Big Daddy Kane, Whodini, and Run-DMC, who proved that being a true emcee never gets old.

The energy at Durham Bulls Athletic Park was the polar opposite of night one’s festivities. Where Friday night was subdued and full of attendees trying to catch the feels, Saturday night was packed full of people ready to party and catch a buzz to bring back hip-hop’s first golden age.

The crowd was filled with people of a certain age decked out in Cross Colours, full Adidas track suits, Kangol hats, and other brands and hairstyles from a bygone era that still influences hip-hop culture more than thirty years later.

North Carolina’s own Big Daddy Kane strted things off with a bang, taking the stage to a screaming crowd with his aptly named hit “Set It Off.” Donning white silk adorned in sequins, BDK looks like he’s still in his thirties, with no dad-gut in sight. I, at the supple age of thirty-four, took that as a hint to put down the Heineken tallboy I was drinking and go to the gym.

Kane’s rapping has kept up over the years as well. His fast-paced, multi-syllabic flow didn’t crack once during a forty-five-minute set in which he not only went through his hits, but danced to them as well, even hitting a split as he went into his most popular song, “Ain’t No Half Steppin’.”

As Kane did his signature stage exit, capped with a white wide-brimmed hat and draped in a white silk cape by his assistant, it was hard not to feel great that someone as iconic as he is still dripping in as much swag sauce as he was before I was even born.

The audience was given another treat as Kane came back on stage to be honored for his induction into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, where it was announced that from now on, October 17 will be Big Daddy Kane day in North Carolina. Personally, I’m hoping this means that it will become socially acceptable to show up to work in a silk cape and wide-brimmed hat. One can only hope.

Whodini followed suit. They’re a little before my time, but I grew up in the Bronx, and their music was always present at block parties and family cookouts. They’re adored in New York City, and the Durham crowd showed that the love is alive in N.C. as well.

The “Freaks Come Out at Night” legends rapped, breakdanced, and moved the crowd without a hitch, blessing the audience with their hits and even modernizing some of their songs with beats from other NY legends, like Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” Their set was a beautiful look into an era of rap that was about fun—before drugs, money, and crime became the central focus. A time when it was cool to be a little campy.

Up next was Run-DMC, and it almost seemed as if the crowd couldn’t believe that it was actually happening. There was a surprisingly quiet applause when K97.5’s Mir.I.Am announced that the duo was in the building and ready to come up.

In actuality, it’s hard to blame them. Run-DMC is as iconic and legendary as any mega-band. They share a spot in music Valhalla with The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, and Metallica, and to realize that they were descending upon Durham, North Carolina almost out of nowhere was a little surreal. I couldn’t believe it myself.

But when Run-DMC hit the stage with “It’s Tricky,” the crowd instantly started jumping. Run came out ready to go! Joking, yelling, and cursing out City of Durham officials for implying that his majesty had a curfew, he let the crowd know that “there’s no Rev tonight, I’m just Run!” He and DMC kept that energy all night, going through hit after hit and paying homage to their lost band mate, Jam Master Jay, with a DJ set from his son.

Though it’s cliché to say, Run-DMC’s music and entity is truly timeless. They’re the foundation of everything we know in hip-hop culture, which would not exist as it does today if it weren’t for a ragtag group of teenagers from Hollis, Queens that came together to be the first ever hip-hop act to sell out Madison Square Garden and land a sneaker endorsement.

Last night, that band blessed the stage at a homegrown music festival in North Carolina that isn’t owned by a big booking company and was put together by a group of people that truly love Black music. The way things have come around for Art of Cool is poetic in this sense, and it’s good to see big things like this happen for local art purveyors who really care.