It was like pages from the hip hop history book came alive right before our eyes at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
More than a half dozen legends of the game performed as the F.O.R.C.E. Live Tour unfolded over the course of some 3 hours on Friday night.
On paper, F.O.R.C.E. (which stands for Frequencies of Real Creative Energy) indeed looked like it was the best of the package tours making the rounds this year in honor of the 50th anniversary of hip hop. And the lineup certainly did not disappoint, as it offered up headliner LL Cool J, the indefatigable Roots, always amazing Salt-N-Pepa and other historically significant acts who are still able to rock the house in 2023.
The concert was an absolute blast for longtime hip-hop fans, who got the chance to enjoy a steady stream of greats take the stage with really no breaks in the action. The Roots set up shop first and then played house band basically the rest of the evening, setting the table for each new MC to take the stage.
Of course, the Roots have their own mighty MC — Black Thought — who might’ve rapped more than anyone else on this night as he rocked the microphone with his Philadelphia troupe and then sat in during most of the sets that followed.
The first artist to join the Roots party was Rakim, who most remember for his wildly influential work as part of the golden age duo Eric B. & Rakim.
“Drop the mic when I’m finished and watch it smoke,” the Long Island native rapped during “My Melody.”
And that’s pretty much what happened as Rakim finished a set that included such gems as “Microphone Fiend” and “Eric B. Is President.” Indeed, nobody sounded better than Rakim on the mic on this night.
It was an evening filled with can’t-believe-your-eyes moments, one of which came not long after Rakim finished up his set. Minutes later, the sheer amount of hip-hop greatness onstage — as Slick Rick and Black Thought traded rhymes, while Doug E. Fresh was in full beatbox mode and DJ Jazzy Jeff rocked the ones and twos — was just staggering to behold as they moved through the sing-along classics “The Show” and “La Di Da Di.”
Fresh, in particular, was worth the price of admission alone, bringing us back to the glory days of beatboxing as he created all sort of amazing noises and grooves with his mouth and throat. Truly, he’s nothing short of a national treasure.
Salt-N-Pepa took the stage next, showcasing exactly why they deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as they rolled through such hip-hop favorites as “I’ll Take Your Man,” “Whatta Man,” “Shoop” and, of course, “Push It.” Yet, the best song in the mix was the gospel-tinged “Stomp,” as the duo turned it up a notch to close its set with this memorable collaboration with Kirk Franklin.
“All my believers make some noise,” Salt cried out. “You know if it wasn’t for your faith, you wouldn’t be here right now.”
Then, finally, it was LL time.
And people had certainly been waiting a long time to see this mutliplatinum-selling hip-hop icon — who is also a Rock and Hall of Fame inductee, Kennedy Center honoree, two-time Grammy winner and curator of the F.O.R.C.E. lineup — perform in this type of a setting, given that it had been 30 years since LL’s last arena tour.
The star of the show quickly made up for lost time, rolling through such favorites as “I’m Bad,” “Luv U Better” and “Around the Way Girl” in powerful fashion while backed by the Roots. He sounded great on the microphone and exhibited much star power — something he’s further honed over the years during his work on the TV program “NCIS: Los Angeles” and in such memorable films as “Halloween H2O” and “Deep Blue Sea.”
The Bay Area crowd let out a huge cheer when LL was joined onstage by local legend E-40, who took the party vibe to the next level with “Sprinkle Me” and other numbers.
LL then took a break, handing the stage over to fellow hip-hop legend — and former intense rival — Ice-T. With the beef well behind the two rappers, Ice-T seemed happy — well, happy by Ice-T standards at least — to be in front of the crowd and rocking through the likes of “You Played Yourself.”
“Frisco, let’s go to South Central Los Angeles,” Ice-T called out as an introduction to what turned out to be his set’s best song, the still-powerful “Colors.”
“Fifty years of hip-hop,” Ice T said as his set came to a close. “It’s been a beautiful thing to see.”
LL Cool J soon returned to the stage, with his regular DJ Z-Trip on the turntables, to perform a second set of tunes, highlighted by the slow jam “I Need Love” and the mighty “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
“Don’t call it a comeback,” LL rapped at the start of the latter. “I been here for years.”
And here’s hoping that LL — as well as the rest of this legendary hip-hop crew — will be around for many years more, putting on terrific shows like the one we witnessed on Friday at Chase Center.