Live: Edan and Prince Paul at the Knitting Factory
Edan, with no mo' fro! CREDIT
Negroes On Ice (Prince Paul and son)
Saturday, February 2
Text by Tal Rosenberg
When Edan Portnoy threw down a guitar at the end of his set at Knitting Factory, emitting a fusillade of reverberating feedback, it wasn’t an act of rage. The fallen guitar represented a sort of proud frustration, as if Edan was asking the audience, “What more do I have to do to show you that I own…this…shit?”
Negroes On Ice. CREDIT
Lazily strolling onto the stage, bald as Charles Barkley and joined by fellow Boston MC Dagha, Edan juggled tracks while occasionally stretching and blotting verses with a distortion pedal hooked up to the mics. At first, the effect of hearing words transformed into robotic blares was disorienting, but over time they complemented the rhythms and cadences of Edan's rapping, which was being fired off at the speed of a stock ticker on fast forward. This was all while Edan changed records, scratching them like mad, and increasingly incorporating a pedal with different effects and mixing.
At one point, Edan and Dagha ditched the turntables entirely for an acoustic guitar and kazoos, conducting an impromptu duet. On kazoos! Afterwards, he introduced the next record as “for the ladies,” only to drop “Femme Fatale” and transform it into a beat. Then he rapped over an exotic version of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a trick from Beauty and the Beat. Though it may sound gimmicky on paper, was no less gimmicky or fantastic as, say, Kanye spitting bars over “Kid Charlemagne.”
On “Rock and Roll,” Edan’s verse, which namedrops a plethora of famous ‘60s musical groups, was recited while Dagha browsed and discarded record sleeves with the mention of each band. It was a clever “Subterranean Homesick Blues” trick that simultaneously referenced and saluted that era. Edan’s set was much of the same: it relied heavily on the past but was constantly looking forward.
It’s likely that Edan’s show wouldn’t have had the same effect had it not followed the DJ set by Prince Paul and his son Paul Fresh, billed as Negroes On Ice. Someone I was with speculated that the title is an allusion to Mabel Fairbanks, a figure skater in the ‘30s and ‘40s who shattered racial barriers by becoming the first black female professional figure skater. And judging from the shirt Prince Paul was wearing, a milk T-shirt with the words “Jesus Was Black” printed in coffee, that may well be the case. But the tone of the set was so blithe that it felt more like a playful jab, with PP and his seventeen-year-old son, who looks exactly like him, running through straightforward and uncluttered mixes of ‘90s hip-hop classics (“Come Clean,” “The Next Episode,” “MCs Act Like They Don’t Know”). Perhaps not revolutionary, but watching Paul affectionately help his son on the ones and twos, I gained comfort in watching the score to my youth passed on to a new, appreciative generation. Besides, it’s always fun to see a bunch of people dance to “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang.”