Paul Miranda (center), a founding member of the Royal Fam krumping crew, dances while surrounded by other members, Jordan Taylor (left) and Daniel Grant (right), at the 2009 Peace Boston Hip-Hop Festival. (Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. photo)
Dorchester’s Strand Theatre played host to the 2009 Peace Boston Hip-Hop Festival last Saturday, showcasing Boston’s wealth of musical and performing talent.
“It’s important for the young people to enjoy their music and culture as well as express themselves,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
In years past, the free event has been held on City Hall Plaza. This year’s change of venue came because the corporate sponsors who fund the event were unable to commit as much money as they had in previous years.
Despite initial sponsorship setbacks, two companies, John Hancock and Gillette, stepped up to make sure the festival would not suffer.
Emceed by TOUCH 106.1 FM afternoon DJ Courtney B, the festival kicked off with a performance by Royal Fam, a krumping dance group that opened the show with high-energy moves that got the crowd involved immediately. Comprised of four members, Gino Pabon, Daniel Grant, Paul Miranda and Jordan Taylor, Royal Fam started two years ago at Jubilee Christian Church.
“It is the manifestation of our praise,” said Miranda.
Performing to bass-heavy music, the Royal Fam dancers spun and shook, expressing themselves to the admiration of the crowd. When asked why the group chose krumping over other forms, Grant explained that it is “more self-expressive and more raw” than other types of dance.
Other performers included M-Dot, a rapper originally from East Boston. He said he was on tour in Milwaukee when he received the call to perform at the festival.
“It was a no-brainer to come back and do this show in Boston,” he said.
M-Dot credits his mother for beginning his influence in hip-hop and rap.
“My mother played funk and R&B when I was younger,” he explained. “From there, it was a progression to groups like Whodini.”
During his set, M-Dot focused on his local heritage, performing an extended version of his song “Hush, Hush,” which lists Boston’s neighborhoods.
Roxbury rapper Moe Pope also performed. A veteran of the festival who cites musical influences running the gamut from Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan to Eric B. and Rakim, Pope performed previously with the groups Electric Company and Project Move.
“It’s hard to grow up in the projects and not be influenced by hip-hop,” said Pope, whose sound is reminiscent of the mid-’90s era of hip-hop. His story-driven lyrics and focus on rhyme scheme recalls classic groups like A Tribe Called Quest and the Pharcyde.
The new school was also well represented, with Brejé, a 12-year-old entertainer from Fitchburg, earning time on the Strand’s stage. Brejé has been receiving radio play on TOUCH 106.1 for the past few months, and said he had been looking forward to performing since he first received a call about the festival.
“I was super excited,” Brejé said. “I love the Strand.”
During his set, Brejé performed his recent hit, “Twist Wit It,” while he danced around the stage.
“I just let it flow, ” he said.
One of the more interesting performances came from the Boston Tap Company. Led by program director Sean Fielder, the company showcased their skills by tapping out staccato beats and rhythms with their feet.
Vanessa Merta, 16, a member of the group’s teen company, explained that it is important for the Boston Tap Company to be at events like the festival to showcase versatility in dance styles.
“Not many people can say they are tap dancers,” she said.
April Nieves, a member of the adult company, agreed.
“[The festival] is another space to show our talents,” she said.
The local performers set the stage for headlining act Whodini, a hip-hop group from New York formed in 1981 that served as a bridge between parents and children at the all-ages show.
Consisting of three core members — Jalil (Jalil Hutchins), Ecstasy (John Fletcher) and Grandmaster Dee (Drew Carter) — Whodini came together to do a track for Mr. Magic, a legendary New York radio DJ who was among the first to play hip-hop for the masses.
They called themselves “Whodini,” short for “Who done it.” However, at the time, each member of Whodini was in a different group. When their original groups heard about the first Whodini track, they were not happy and decided to disband — leaving Jalil, Ecstasy and Grandmaster Dee free to become Whodini full-time.
Whodini opened their set with Grandmaster Dee playing a tribute to Michael Jackson, followed by some old-school R&B and funk that moved the adults in the audience to their feet. After that, Grandmaster Dee queued up newer hits that got the youth in the audience involved, at which point the rest of the members of Whodini made their way onto the stage.
Performing all their hits, including “Friends” and “The Freaks Come Out at Night,” Whodini brought out Jalil’s younger brother, Doctor Ice (Fred Reeves), to perform “Roxanne, Roxanne,” the 1980s hit by Brooklyn old-schoolers UTFO.
Whodini ended their set by bringing Brejé on stage to dance with them as they thanked the audience for the opportunity to celebrate the original meaning of hip-hop.
“We old-school guys need to be ambassadors and help educate the youth about the history of hip-hop,” said Ecstasy.
Jalil took time to express his gratitude to Boston for continuing to produce the Peace festival.
“I pray this doesn’t ever stop in Boston,” he said.