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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Violence Mars Superfest at Coliseum

The crowd loved his cool strut, his funk-powered dancers, his dark sunglasses and new jack-swingin’ persona. But the most fervent response Kool Moe Dee received during his performance at the 10th Annual Budweiser Superfest on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was to the brief snippet he performed from “Self-Destruction,” the rap plea for an end to the black-on-black crime and violence that has been escalating in the inner city in recent years.

But neither Dee’s appeal nor the heavy police presence on foot, on horseback and in helicopters stopped fights from breaking out during the course of the six-hour concert--fights that would send hundreds of skittish people running for the nearest exits. Police reported three stabbing incidents at the event, which was attended by a crowd of 41,000.

“Hey, I’m just here to see Kool Moe Dee and Karyn White,” said 19-year-old Tina Jefferson from Carson as she watched one fracas down on the field. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t even be putting myself through this kind of a scene.”

The bill included rappers (Dee, Rob Base & DJ Easy Rock, M. C. Hammer), young soul stars (Tony! Toni! Tone!, New Edition, Guy) and one soul matriarch (Patti LaBelle). White didn’t make her scheduled appearance.

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Dee’s set had its moments, hampered though they were by what may have been the world’s muddiest sound system. And if you didn’t have great seats or a pair of binoculars, you may have missed some of his flashier dance steps, since the Budweiser folks didn’t spring for giant video screens. But none of that stopped the kids in the bleachers from chanting along to the lyrics of Dee’s “Go See the Doctor,” a rap about the perils of condom-less sex.

While he’s an authoritative performer on record, Dee suffered from the same problem that plagued many of the young performers on the bill Saturday: How to pace a show, build momentum and keep an audience fully engrossed are pesky little conceptual wrinkles that haven’t been totally ironed out by Dee--or, for that matter, by the act that followed him, New Edition.

Back when Bobby Brown was a member of this group, it was Ralph Tresvant--with his teen-dream good looks and teasingly sweet falsetto--who garnered most of the spotlight. Now it’s Brown’s replacement in the group, Johnny Gill, who gets the screams that used to go to Tresvant.

With his from-the-old-school soulfulness, Gill tends to overpower his fellow group members. But his bravado didn’t disguise the fact that their act also contained a lot of annoying stop-and-start moves that kept New Edition from chugging along like the well-oiled entertainment machine it should be.

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Pacing was a problem in Guy’s set also, though lead singer Aaron Hall compensated with his church-derived vocal delivery. Muddy sound system aside, Guy performed a string of tunes (“Teddy’s Jam,” “Piece of My Love,” “I Like”) that succeeded despite the feedback and distortion.

M. C. Hammer and his Posse also came across strongly--even though there were a few lulls when it looked as if they had no clear idea of what was supposed to happen next. Short of Michael Jackson, Prince and Bobby Brown (when the spirit moves him), nobody delivers more exciting choreography than the Bay Area-based rapper and crew.

Like Dee, Hammer got his most fevered response to a “stop-the-violence” message. On Saturday, that message was more well-meaning than effective.


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