Long live the Kane

by Ryan Snyder

“Big Daddy Kane in the house,” soul diva Sharon Jones called out from the stage at a Dap-Kings performance at the Cat’s Cradle back on May 11, 2010. The father of Brooklyn swagger and current Raleigh resident was just another face in the sold-out crowd that night, watching the woman who once sang uncredited on a record of his long ago, and Saturday night at Ziggy’s, Kane was once again in the house, a face in the crowd, but this time it was just after he climbed into it in the middle of “Set It Off,” hugged a few ladies, slapped a few fives and took the stage again without missing a beat. Unlike a lot of the rappers for whom he helped survey, grade and pave the way, the legendary emcee isn’t the richest — though he can dress as fly as any — but even at 43, his mic skills are razor sharp.

Kane’s not nearly the oldest emcee in hip-hop — that honor might go to Ice-T — but the crowd itself was a throwback to the earliest days of the art form. Kane got back a massive round of applause when he asked those over 40 to make themselves known and only a slightly less enthusiastic chorus when he went as high as 45. There was a scholarly ambiance among the hundreds of hip-hop heads which, paired with its maturity, might serve to explain why they mostly looked stone bored while trite trap-rap openers Yung Ron and Kayo Bracey took turn their turns amidst a near endless salvo of hype men working the room. There’s an unspoken bar that unproven openers for rap icons should aspire to cross, and feeble posturing misses pathetically.

Those who came to hear “real hip hop,” as it is often misrepresented, would soon be appeased. BDK stepped instantly into the rapid-fire “Nuff Respect” shortly after midnight to open what would be a regrettably brief set, but Kane’s curatorial acumen is not without motive. His flow is so effortless and dynamic that one had to be quick on their ears to fully appreciate cuts like “Wrath of Kane,” “Smooth Operator” and his verse from “The Symphony.” He still packed a lot into his short, but sweet 30 minutes on stage. He revealed that he was set to tour with Heavy D before the Overweight Lover’s untimely passing in November, then went on to pay tribute to him and rapper Big L via his verse from “Platinum Plus.”

The set was light on B-sides and deep cuts, instead focusing on the most recognizable material, but digging into Kane’s material shows how not all of his lyrics have received the same kind treatment by age. Issues he explored on songs like “Another Victory” feel anachronistic (“They can’t understand to see a black man/ drivin’ a car that costs 25 grand”) or simply uncouth in 2012. “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy” was noteworthy as an early example of homophobia in hip hop, though rendered ironic when his longtime DJ Mister Cee was unceremoniously outed earlier this summer.

The biggest hits, of course, got the most enthusiastic reaction. Excitable ladies up front groped Kane as he delivered “Raw” with the vitality of a man who once supposedly brought the ruckus to Madonna and Naomi Campbell at the same time. Kane capped his brief stint with classics “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” and “Warm It Up, Kane” in what might have been his most ballsy move of all: He exited at the show’s peak. No encore, no salvos; he just said good night and walked off. There’s a lot to take away from that for a young rapper. Come hard while you can, bow out before you’ve worn out your welcome and, most importantly, don’t half-step.