Did you know that Hangout Music Fest was brought to you by MTV this year? Because we didn't until the second-drunkest member of our crew was interviewed by Vinny from the Jersey Shore for his ridiculous mustache and tuxedo t-shirt.
The homogenous crowd of mostly college kids, at least 95 percent of whom were white and wasted/on drugs in the vein of MTV Spring Break, might have given it away, too. But that can be expected at an event in Gulf Shores, AL, which seemed to pull from SEC schools all around.
What wouldn't have been expected, at least not in 1989, is that Public Enemy would be performing “Fight The Power” in front that same crowd – most of whom were born after the song was written – with The S1W raising their black power fists behind them. For that matter, it might not have been plausible a year ago when the lone hip-hop representatives at Hangout were Mac Miller and Yelawolf, two white rappers.
In fact, most of the crowd was born after Public Enemy started making songs, at all, as evidenced by the lack of singing along for most of the show. But when Chuck D asked everyone born after '87 to raise their hands, the vast majority of hands in the air didn't surprise him. It seemed to be the reason he and Flava Flav were in town at all: to educate the next generation.
The education was necessary. As Chuck pointed out when the crowd was skeptical of Flav's ability to play the drums, “Man these people know you from a TV show; they don't know you can jam too.”
They continued dropping gems on us kids throughout the show, discussing issues of racism and separatism between songs.
It was a conversation that went both ways. As Sway was introducing Kendrick Lamar, he noted that this was his first time in the state of Alabama, not a huge surprise given the racial tensions that existed in some areas of the Deep South that are still stigmatized today.
He too was pushing the education. When few in the crowd knew K. Dot was Kendrick's original nickname, he informed them while chiding the mostly-white crowd, saying, “Ya'll gotta do the knowledge on hip-hop.”
What he seemed to really be saying, and what Public Enemy was preaching throughout their set, was, “If you're going to enjoy our culture, at least respect where it came from.” There was a hint of don't talk about it be about it – a message necessary for the Twitter generation – but it resonated at a higher level. The fact that these performers came down to Alabama for Hangout at all was almost like an olive branch, putting a color blindness on hip-hop while noting that it was still necessary to respect that hip-hop started as black music.
Whether the message sunk in or not remains to be seen, but it was fully captured by Stevie Wonder's brilliant headlining performance to close out the festival. He grew very emotional on the set while talking about his upbringing and the struggles that his mother went through when she was growing up in Alabama. Everything came full circle for Stevie Wonder on that stage as he sung songs about love, from “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” to a cover of John Lennon's, “Imagine,” and talked with the crowd about coming together for good and striving for peace.
He was the perfect person to carry the messages that may have been lost on the drunken, high youth at PE and Kendrick Lamar, fully representing what was happening at Hangout 2013. He’s one of the greatest artists and performers of all-time (so, too, is PE, for that matter) and, it goes without saying, was the most talented singer present, capturing everyone's attention to deliver his peaceful, harmonious messages, as a living representation of the evils that existed in the South, and the color-blindness necessary to come together.