The 7th Annual OkayPlayer Holiday Jam featuring the Roots, Donn T, Reggie Watts, Razhel, Bilal, Sufjan Stevens, Big Daddy Kane, Raekwon, and Special Guests
December 9, 2013
For the seventh consecutive year, the folks at OkayPlayer hosted a gigantic party for their friends, journalists, musicians and other industry types featuring the Roots performing with special guests. What makes the party so incredible is that the folks at OkayPlayer keep the guests, and the setlist tightly guarded, making the entire night a wild surprise. At the 6th annual party, the highlights included the Roots playing a half hour worth of A Tribe Called Quest songs with Q-Tip and Talib Kweli, as well as a brief set of classic soul with William Hart of the legendary Deflonics. (I still talk about that party because it was incredible.)
This year OkayPlayer attempted to top the previous year with an impressive array of special guests performing and collaborating with the Roots.
The night was hosted by comedian Hannibal Buress, who later on performed, as he joked “his hit song in Sweden,” “Gibberish Rap,” a track that satirizes contemporary mainstream hip hop in a way that’s both hilarious and absolutely true.
The night’s opener was an act by the name of Gizmo, but admittedly i found their set to be disappointing and boring – their sound was a familiar mesh of blues, soul, rock and jazz that i’ve heard countless times without much to distinguish them from countless other bands who have a similar sound. And although each of member of the band were talented, the band’s live set was marred by the fact that their lead singer struck me as awkward and kind of self-conscious: at times, it looked like he didn’t quite know what to do with his hands or how to move on a stage in a way that conveyed confidence. Such a shame, really.
Following Gizmo was Donn T, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s sister. Although she comes from a musical family and her brother is famous, she’s developed a reputation as an artist in her own right – her sound manages to easily jump and blur genre lines between funk, soul, hip-hop and others. Live, she’s a dynamic, charismatic force that won’t let you ignore her. She was absolutely fantastic and I would love to catch her again.
Mozaic Flow, a brass band from Philly who played a bunch of funk standards with hip hop swagger along with some hip hop classics. Their set was full of energy and it got the crowd really going – as almost every single brass band does.
Comedian Reggie Watts followed shortly after with a set of comedic music that was actually pretty good, considering that it was just him and his vocals being fed through pedals, a looping machine and a few other electronics. My own personal highlight was his song “Kwanza” which managed to be be seductively funky – and funny.
Hannibal Buress during his performance of his hit song in Sweden, “Gibberish Rap."
Rahzel came up on the stage to beatbox and although his skills as a beatboxer are unparalleled, his set felt a bit unfocused, unrehearsed and a bit long. Several times, Rahzel had asked the sound booth to adjust the sound on his mic. Still when he does his thing, he’s pretty dope for at least a few minutes.
Right after, members of the Roots with a couple of reggae artists paid a loving tribute to the sound of the Caribbean as they played a number of beloved reggae songs including "I’m Still In Love With You, Boy” and others. And they brought out one of contemporary soca’s biggest hit-makers to do his hottest song.
What made this portion of the show so impressive was that the Roots played in a loose, jam like fashion, as though they could improvise and build up on a riddim and groove through it all night if they wanted to. And everyone had a ridiculous energy.
A singer/songwriter who’s name I sadly forgot followed and her set was marred by all kinds of issues – it seemed that the members of the Roots couldn’t hear her guitar and were playing a full step faster than her. It was ugly and i felt badly for her. Strangely, she kind of walked off the stage in a huff right after the one song she played.
Completing the annals of weird and yet intriguing live collaborations was the Roots’ set with singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Even he was aware of the fact that some of the audience would think “who the hell is this goofy white boy on stage with the Roots?” – to the point that he made a joke about it before his set. With the Roots, Stevens’ material took on a jazzy soulful sensibility.
I had heard it while waiting outside but the Bilal joined the Roots for an eerily pretty and yet very jazzy rendition of Radiohead’s “Everything In It’s Right Place.” followed by Bilal’s material, which much like Prince’s work managed to be seductive, and played with genre in a way that made it very difficult to pinpoint.
One of the true hip hop moments of the night and perhaps of the year was when the Roots played a set with Big Daddy Kane. And you can tell that the members of the Roots – specifically Black Thought – was having the time of their lives.
Blowing the entire roof off the joint was the moment when Raekwon joined the Roots. Together they performed several songs off Raekwon’s classic Only Built 4 Cuban LInx including “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” Holy shit, what a moment.
For these photos and more, check out the Flickr set here: