A few hours before the announcement, Fat Rat da Czar was a little nervous. Thursday night, Love, Peace & Hip-Hop unveiled famed late-’80s/early-’90s duo Kid ‘n Play as the headliner for its Hip-Hop Family Day, the annual Main Street block party celebrating the community-empowering spirit of the titular music and culture that returns on April 8.
Fat, one of the event’s key organizers, was worried that this year’s selection — especially coming a year after a headliner as socially outspoken as KRS-One — could be seen as pandering, ignoring rappers who might speak more directly to the nation’s current tension to grab a bigger draw.
But Fat needn’t have worried. When the reveal came at Wired Goat Vista, the crowd packed into the coffee shop’s basement roared. When Free Times staff writer Chris Trainor overheard me discussing the selection in the middle of the newsroom, he jumped up from his desk and hugged me. From the jittery energy and youth-positive messages of their biggest hits — “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody,” for instance — to the endearing films they also produced — see: House Party 1-3 — it’s hard to imagine a group better splitting the difference between wide accessibility, ’90s nostalgia and genuine hip-hop bonafides.
As to how much the duo displays the greater, community-elevating power of hip-hop that this festival seeks to support, I’ll lean on the assessment of the online encyclopedia AllMusic, which says Kid ‘n Play was “among the first groups to tame rap’s hardcore mentality into a positive, message-oriented music suitable for teens and mass audiences.”
Sounds like a pretty good fit for a Hip-Hop Family Day to me. And besides, grabbing a group that might attract audiences outside the genre’s hardline base is part of the point for this event, throwing up a big tent to get the uninitiated to appreciate the break dancing, the graffiti art, the spoken word, all the various forms of expression that make hip-hop so exciting — and that this festival does such a great job celebrating.