Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame members Professor Griff and Terminator X – of legendary political hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy – lead an educational journey through the history of hip-hop Saturday at Petra’s with the first date on a planned lecture and music series that’s part classroom, part dancefloor.
“After seeing ‘The Evolution of Hip-Hop’ on Netflix, I thought, ‘They’re leaving so much out,’ ” says Professor Griff, calling from his home in Atlanta where his power was still out two days after Hurricane Irma. “What if someone that was actually involved in it told the story through a revolutionary lens? I wasn’t thinking in terms of me telling it as far as doing a lecture. I was thinking Terminator X can do it by playing that music.”
Instead of making their own film, which would take time and financial backing, they’re taking a live approach, creating a party atmosphere where dancing, graffiti, music, activism and history intertwine.
Charlotte’s the test market for the unconventional show.
“I kept getting phone calls that Atlanta’s getting overcrowded. Where is the next up-and-coming scene, the next city?” says Griff. “I say it’s Charlotte. Plus, I’ve lectured there a couple times and the people come out.”
Framed in a historical context, the lecture explores the social issues and political environment that gave way to hip-hop and the change that the artists who made it sought. Griff cites songs like Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” and 2Pac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” and seminal rap movements like Grandmaster Flash innovations as a DJ in the Bronx in the ’70s, Public Enemy’s militant call to arms in the ’80s, and Brand Nubian’s chronicle of the crack epidemic in the ’90s.
From a revolutionary (Griff’s word) standpoint – given the racial tension and divisive issues facing the U.S. – he sees now as the right time to re-examine the era that gave us NWA and Public Enemy.
“The mumble rappers aren’t even giving us an idea of what’s going on in the streets,” he says. “They aren’t writing about it. How did hip-hop that was so instrumental from 1976-77 to a few years ago (come to this)? It’s almost like the storytellers are dying. We’re losing the big ones – Big L, Big Pun, Big Poppa – and we’re leaving it to the little ones – Lil Wayne, lil this one. We’re waiting for them to step up and give us the theme song for what’s going on in America.”
Although he praises Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco, Griff says he thought the actions of the Trump administration would light a fire under a new generation of emcees.
“There’s still some degree of consciousness and some brave souls that can speak truth to power,” he says. “I thought there would be a crew of artists, especially women. I thought it was going to give birth to a lot of emcees. I thought we’d be hearing a song about the voting process, a song about women’s rights…Donald Trump is giving us enough to write about. Yet we keep hearing the regurgitated songs from 10 or 20 years ago. We need a young Public Enemy.”
He hopes the lecture series can help spur that next bold voice, adding: “Maybe out of this will be the birth of that storyteller.”
History of Hip Hop with Professor Griff and Terminator X of Public Enemy
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Petra’s, 1919 Commonwealth Ave.
Tickets: $20 in advance; $25 at the door.
Details: 704-332-6608; www.petrasbar.com.