To set the scene based on the observations of a reliable eyewitness--me: It was a miserable night in Boulder, thanks to a spring storm and driving conditions that even someone in a Zamboni would have found challenging. Nevertheless, the Jeru/Shadow date was a sellout, and from the size of the crowd inside the Fox, it was clear that virtually everyone who had purchased a ticket had used it. By and large, the patrons were young and pleasingly multicultural; moreover, none of the various groups represented seemed to be at each other's throats. By all appearances, peace was the order of the day.
Not that those present were ready to accept whatever they were given. At half past nine, the opening act, DJ Shadow (lauded in "The Shadow Knows," April 3) stepped from the wings. But rather than offering up moody soundscapes of the sort that populate his fascinating new full-length, Endtroducing..., he remained in the background while two rappers from his crew, SoleSides, threw rhymes at the throng. The result was underwhelming; the pair displayed all the flow of hardened concrete. The attendees reacted with justifiable disdain. Although SoleSides wasn't booed off the stage, it didn't come close to earning an encore.
Jeru was another story; from the moment he moved into the spotlight, he was in charge. Clad in a puffy, Afrocentric hat and a cape tossed over his bare torso, he lit into material drawn largely from last year's Wrath of the Math album like the ebony Superman he claims to be. But what was most surprising about his turn was the way he leavened his trademark positivity with humor. The tone of the show was set early on, when he revealed why he had failed to appear alongside Tricky for a scheduled January show at the Fox: "Tricky was an asshole," he explained. As the performance went on, Jeru took regular breaks to hector anyone and everyone he did not feel was getting down enthusiastically enough. But his manner was good-natured and comic, not confrontational. It was hard to believe that anyone could take umbrage at his behavior.
Unfortunately, someone did. After an especially entertaining bit of audience participation, a fan named Art challenged Jeru to a freestyle contest. Such battles, in which emcees make up raps in an attempt to best their adversaries, are a hip-hop tradition, and Jeru was more than willing to compete. Art was given a chance to rhyme and did so vigorously but amateurishly. Jeru dispatched him quickly but without undue gloating; he and an associate (who said that Art had displayed "a lot of heart") even encouraged the people at the Fox to give the loser a round of applause. Before he could go on with the show, however, Jeru received another challenge, this time from a group of beefy young Caucasians in a section designated for those 21 and over--an area where alcohol was permitted. According to information gleaned by the Fox's Don Strasburg, these men had been trying to get Jeru into a freestyle duel since early in his show--and he finally acquiesced. One of the men, adorned in baggy pants and a knit hat, stepped on stage and immediately got in Jeru's face. He refused to rap first, and when he was goaded at last into offering up a few lines, he came off like Vanilla Ice's less talented little brother. Jeru responded by verbally roasting him, but the man refused to leave the stage. After a few seconds of jawing, Jeru gave him a second chance, but the best the kid could manage was a weak insult of the rapper's nipples.
Shortly thereafter, a situation that initially struck some observers (like yours truly) as a staged sideshow spiraled out of control. The man accused Jeru of being "hostile," a charge that struck the star of the show as absurd; shaking his head, he told the man's supporters that he was only "buggin'," not trying to precipitate a fight. Then he freestyled a response that ended with him trying to take the microphone from the man's hand. (A member of Jeru's posse had previously tried to retrieve the mike but had failed to do so.) The man reacted by taking a swing at Jeru. As they grappled, the stage suddenly filled with security personnel, roadies and perhaps others from the crowd--it was hard to tell who was who. The combatants were separated and pulled off stage in a matter of seconds, and a number of cooler heads, like Francois Baptiste of 3-Deep Productions, tried to calm everyone down. That proved easier said than done: At one point, Baptiste told some of the man's comrades, "You're in the 21 section, but you're acting like you're 4 years old."