Live: Fat Beats Hosts A Cathartic Going-Away Party, Whether You Made It Inside Or Not
Hundreds of people stood outside underground hip-hop mecca Fat Beats Saturday evening, as the West Village spot closed down for good with a farewell in-store party featuring DJ Premier, A-Trak, Just Blaze, DJ Spinna, and a massive crowd of fans and record collectors. Most of those on the street had been standing around for hours, knowing there was little to no chance of their making it inside the tiny store, but they all hopefully stared up at the windows nonetheless. A rumble of cheers erupted at any glimpse of a DJ through the fogged glass or a recognizable face (be it a producer or longtime store employee) being escorted into the building. Clumps of people reminisced about the first records they heard at Fat Beats, while others broke out into breakdancing circles and even a few freestyle battles. Founder and owner Joseph Abajian monitored the mayhem himself, spending much of his last day at the store on the street with the people who helped keep it going for so long. From the outside in, today was about respect.
We made it into the sweltering-hot store around 7 p.m., right when Eclipse had cut the music and opened the windows to let in some fresh air. The breathing mass of backpacks and fitted hats were enveloped by walls covered in hip-hop memorabilia and what was left of store stock -- the "Old School Hip Hop" wall was completely bare. "The first record I bought from here was Harlem World," says Ace from Long Island, chatting with a group of friends in their late teens. "I was in 4th grade then." His friends chime in to add Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth (QS, 18) and Gang Starr (Shozae, 19) to their own lists. Hidden by a swarm of photographers by the stage, Just Blaze, Dante Ross, Dave 1, and A-Trak mock the photo of a much younger A-Trak on the cover of the one remaining copy of his own Gangster Breaks; a sweaty boy accosts Peter Rosenberg for an autograph while a girl breaks into a freestyle nearby.
The windows were closed back up (the cops were lurking outside), reestablishing an intimate setting wherein the young could learn from the old. Legendary freestyle emcee Supernatural made a surprise appearance, taking a few lighthearted jabs at the flock of next-generation backpackers in the mix ("Put one finger in the air for FB... and FB don't stand for Facebook"; "Take a picture of the audience, and go Twitter that"), while Eclipse manned the decks. DJ Spinna came through for a set featuring a live performance by Soul II Soul's Caron Wheeler: "This song would never have gone this far without real vinyl," she announced, before launching into the group's epic "Back to Life." By this time, even Rich Medina and Dante Ross were in awe and taking video on their cellphones.
DJ Premier was late, though that seemed to be nothing new to the posse of DJs and employees now cracking open beers. While we waited, they handed out water bottles to the audience, some of whom who had been in this sweat box for five hours. A young girl, arms full of records, asked her mother to get Just Blaze to sign one, while others tried to buy posters off the walls. "All the posters are going to the Fat Beats warehouse," apologized Eclipse. "We plan on using them again soon." A roar of cheers from the street told us that Premo had arrived.
After threatening us with rock, country, and Justin Bieber ("Bieber! I gotta jam some Justin Bieber!"), Premo launched into a set of classics -- BDP's "Jimmy," KRS-One's "I'm Still #1," and EPMD's "Let the Funk Flow" were peppered with plenty of commentary and a peek at the DJ's screensaver ("That's me and Guru and Lord Finesse. Look at how skinny he used to be!"). Gang Starr requests were dodged, though we did learn about the "official" tribute coming next month: "If you want a Guru tribute, October 21st at Nokia Theater," he informed us. "Everyone from Snoop Dogg to Scarface will be there. I have one huge surprise but I can't say anything about it." In the end, the fans, now soaked in sweat, got their way and threw up L's as Premo closed out the night with Gang Starr's "Full Clip" -- a tribute to both Guru and Big L.
As the night ended, no one moved, unwilling to say their final goodbyes. Abajian had finally made his way indoors, and humbly thanked the fans and DJs who had come through over the years. From the windows, we could see that the crowd had grown, with well-wishers now waving at the store from across 6th Avenue. "We're gonna stay open late so you all can walk through and buy things!" someone yells down. On the mic, Abaijan looks out at the mix of store employees, DJs, producers, and starstruck kids, and pauses for a moment: "If anything, this proves that the art of hip-hop is still alive."
Fatbeats.com is still up and running. Go buy something.