As home to the largest homeless population in the country, Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles really is the most appropriate venue for hip-hop artists to make some noise about inequality.
And that's just what they did on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the free music festival organized by Chuck D, lead man of the political eighties hip-hop group Public Enemy.
In addition to Public Enemy, performing old-school and new-school hip-hop heads included Kurupt, Ronnie Hudson, Freestyle Fellowship, Lady of Rage, King Tee, Kid Frost, Yo-Yo, Egyptian Lover, L.A. Possee and others. With a couple hundred attendees, the 1 p.m. show continued into the dark, lasting almost five hours.
Public Enemy spit OG hits "Fight the Power," "Shut 'Em Down" and "Can't Truss It," and, according to the Los Angeles Times, Chuck D walked through the audience after his performance for about 15 minutes, posing with and hugging fans.
In between each two to three-song set, social activists and poets filled interludes with discussion of economic and racial justice, police profiling and brutality, immigration reform and other issues.
Only a handful of attendees were actual Skid Row residents, according to KPCC, with more having driven in from Oakland, Santa Monica and elsewhere. Christine Petit of LA CAN, which was one of the organizations handing out free food and goods at the event, told KPCC, "I mean, it's a festival for the residents [of Skid Row]. We were sort of hoping to keep it, you know, down. But word gets out."
Perhaps one of the most powerful moments, depicted in the video below, was when rapper Flava Flav shared that he started smoking cigarettes when he was just 6, drinking at 8, smoking marijuana at 10 and smoking crack and cocaine at 23 years-old. He was proud to say that he's been off crack and cocaine for six years now, and this year he's completely sober except for cigarettes. He had the audience repeat after him, "I am!" ("I am!"), "Somebody!" ("Somebody!")
"Hip-hop has to make a statement," Chuck D told the Ventura County Reporter. Even though the event had no official Occupy connection, he continued, "We cannot have Skid Row be obscured. We have a moral obligation down there. This statement marks our [Public Enemy's] 25th year. Occupy Skid Row is a peaceful protest of power, and hip-hop is trying to make the situation better."