Because old R&B; records are the bricks and mortar of hip-hop, rap artists are both more knowledgeable and more cynical about the roots of their music than many of their rock 'n' roll peers--a James Brown or a Rick James stomp is more useful dead than alive, deconstructed into its various parts and rebuilt into something new.
So it was a little surprising that the hip-hop community embraced Curtis Mayfield as wholeheartedly as it did. Ice-T scored big with a brilliant rap version of his "Pusherman" last year; hints of "Superfly" seemed to pop up in half of last year's rap albums. Mayfield's score to "Superfly '90" is more or less an all-star rap compilation.
At the Palace on Tuesday, there was another all-star rap compilation of sorts, a benefit concert to raise money for Mayfield, who lies paralyzed in an Atlanta hospital after a freak accident, and the hip-hop community showed its greatest solidarity in years. (Things were pushed along a little by Capitol Records, which has the "Superfly '90" album to promote.)
The Soul Sisters and Craze started things off, novelty rappers whose acts started to drag about 30 seconds into their brief sets. The Uzi$Bros, a UTFO-style rap band from the Bay Area, played a too-lengthy set of rock and hip-hop and funk. C.P.O., a new Compton rap group associated with N.W.A.'s MC Ren, did a solid five minutes, as did original L.A. gangster rapper King Tee.
There was a Latino-rap summit, with Cuban L.A. rapper Mellow Man Ace and Chicano L.A. rapper Kid Frost reprising their various hits and coming together for some Spanish-language freestyle--the highlight of the show. The D.O.C., Eazy-E and Tone Loc--all featured prominently in the promotion of the show--poked their heads on stage, smiled shyly and left without rapping a line. Mayfield's original Impressions, also scheduled to show, never did.
Save a short dedication by Frost, the first artist to talk about Mayfield was Ice-T, who spoke a short appreciation, and asked the audience to give Mayfield a moment of noise . . . silence was too gloomy. Ice-T's set--he seems to have as many guys on stage as MC Hammer, except Ice-T's drink beer instead of dance--was sloppy but heartfelt, more an on-stage party than a show.
Fishbone, expanded to a 10-piece rock band, played an energetic set, and at 2 a.m. an all-star band of sidemen from Santana, Bruce Hornsby and the E Street Band played subtle, slick versions of Mayfield stuff like "Gypsy Woman" to an audience of clean-up crews and bartenders.