There hasn't been an impressive history of attendance at national act headlining hip-hop shows in Little Rock. I can't recall seeing too many packed shows over the last 10 years. Unfortunately for Cee Knowledge (better known as Doodlebug from the '90s hip-hop act Digable Planets), Saturday night history repeated itself and once again a great hip-hop artist put on a stellar performance for a small crowd of faithful followers.
Even with that history, it's not unreasonable to think that a big name could go over well. Most of our local hip-hop shows are typically well-attended. The promoter of Saturday night's event at Downtown Music, Willie Biggs of Hoodtech, is among the mentioned promoters successful with local events around Little Rock.
“My intention [was] to bring something unique to Little Rock,” he told me.
Cee didn't disappoint. He showed up early for the show and mingled among the crowd, greeting folks with handshakes. From my experiences with hip-hop artists of any renown, I'd say I was already in unique territory. He was friendly and outgoing. Most artists don't have much to say and most stay away from the crowd until it's time to hit the stage. Cee patiently watched the long list of opening acts before hitting the stage himself.
In the opening slots, there was gospel by Bonita Rudolph, blues by Jenne', spoken word by Marcus Montgomery and three different female rap acts — the always amazing Shea Marie, tomboy extraordinaire Lucky Rudy and hood cat Priceless. Local lyrical heavyweights 9th Scientist and Mista Mayhem put on tight performances, along with the young but impressive Maxx. Hoodtech's star lyricist and microphone dominator K3 closed out the openers with a charismatic performance from his new material, “B.A.I.N.”
When Cee got onstage, with his partner Soulbuck on the 1s and 2s, he immediately launched into the kind of cosmic flows that earned him a Grammy award in 1993. The great sound of Downtown Music had his powerful vocals charging through the mix. There was a moment when the crowd took over, launching into a chant of “We be to rap, what key be to lock,” a lyric from Digable Planets' famous hit, “Cool Like Dat.” Cee obliged by flowing freestyle over the chant with some improvised accompaniment from Soulbuck.
The rapper's new material matched perfectly with the familiar hits of Digable Planets. It still had the psychedelic jazz sound and lyrical flows from another time and space. Without being too preachy, Cee had encouraging words for the folks about making it in the music business. He also gave the small crowd props for sticking around and commended the performances that opened the show. The show ended with highlighted hits from the two Digable Planets albums, including “Nickel Bag” and the rest of “Cool Like Dat.” He never seemed irritated by the size of the crowd, and even told me later, “It's all part of the hustle.”