Soulstyce Festival featuring Fat Joe and others - Pico Rivera - Sept 17, 2011

Fat Joe performs at the left. BMX dudes catch air to the right.
Fat Joe performs at the left. BMX dudes catch air to the right.
Ben Westhoff

Soulstyce Festival

Featuring Fat Joe, Redman, Ras Kass, Binary Star and others

Pico Rivera Sports Arena

Sept 17, 2011

Better rocking in the house tonight.

The second annual Soulstyce Hip-Hop And Arts Festival, which is taking place this weekend, does not occur near either of the the solstices. (Sept 21 is an equinox, sorry.) But it did live up to the "soul" part of its name; not through its music -- which was true school/conscious hip-hop, and some reggae and ska -- but through the impact it clearly had on attendees. It affected their souls, man.

Personally, I thought the location was pretty awesome. The small, circular Pico Rivera Sports Arena is normally used for rodeo. On this occasion the field was half given over to fans watching acts like Ras Kass, Fat Joe, and Redman, and the other half contained giant half pipes made out of dirt, with BMX riders doing flips in the air. Outside the arena vendors sold things like baby onesies that said "Thug Life." When we were leaving, the b-boy stage had been taken over by an overweight girl in a bra and thong dancing furiously to electro music. Eat your heart out, Rock the Bells.

Ever been to L.A. Live? Imagine the opposite of that. There was a controlled chaos to the festivities, only without the control aspect. I saw maybe one security guard the whole time, and though attendance seemed low -- there were only a few dozen people on the stadium floor in the moments before Redman's set -- they were an enthusiastic, committed bunch.

For all of the flyers I was handed you would think one might have been a schedule of events, but no, there was not a single program to be had. This was especially frustrating because their were four separate stages, featuring dozens and dozens of artists, most of whom went on two hours late or more. Another problem was that the stages were absurdly close, and their sounds bled together. In fact, the music blasting from the Splitarillo cigarillo booth was as loud as a stage, which had to have been frustrating to the skankers plying their trade fifty yards away.

A long parade of excellent rappers came through on the main stage, one after another, their sets so short that some didn't bother really explaining who they were. (Nearly all managed to lament the death of Guru, however.) One who stood out was Ras Kass, a Watts-born veteran who splits the difference between golden era East and West Coast sounds. Though he was killing it, he only did two songs; if one wants to see more of him there's on opportunity to do so next Saturday at Malone's Bar and Grill in Santa Ana, but we'll see about that. Binary Star, meanwhile, seemed to inspire the crowd more than anyone else.

Fat Joe came on around nine, looking shockingly svelte and giving love to his Latin American brethren, before announcing that part of his show was going to be a tribute to the greatest Latino rapper of all time. We all got psyched for a killer B-Real set, before realizing he was talking about Big Pun. I suppose he's good too. Actually, Pun was a little too good, apparently, as Joe didn't make any effort whatever to rap along with his backing tracks. Thus, "Still Not a Player" was little more than Joe performing hype man karaoke. (Points, though, for using the "crush a lot" version.)

He didn't do much more than that on his own songs, either. "Lean Back" was almost entirely lip-synched, with Joe holding the mic close to his face and mouthing along. Anyone who was up close to the stage could tell what was going on, and the energy level was very low. The crowd got most pumped for "All I Do Is Win," the original of which Joe's not even on. I suddenly understood why rappers do remixes -- so they'll have something to perform in concert.

It was during Joe's set that someone began flying a giant remote control helicopter over the BMX area. The thing had to be four feet long, swooping in and out like a dragonfly. Dropping lower and lower above the half-pipes, it began to feel inevitable that one of the BMX riders would smash into it.

This did not come to pass however, and indeed just about everything that could have gone wrong at Soulstyce failed to do so. Cheers to kids on weed.


The crowd: Latin ladies with cleavage, latin guys smoking joints, white guys with piles of dreds under those winter cap thingys, and post-racial types selling shirts that said "Marijuana Cures Racism."

Critical bias: Conscious rap makes me want to watch Fox News. And by the way why does Fat Joe, whose lyrics include "I done made some hoes out of the girls next door" get lumped in with these types?

Random notebook dump: The short performance by David Faustino -- aka Bud Bundy, aka Grandmaster B -- and his artist Patience Price was the most fun I had all night. Shouts also to DJ Shiva.

Pictures below.


David Faustino and DJ Shiva
David Faustino and DJ Shiva
Ben Westhoff
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