At Operation Skid Row, Chuck D and Public Enemy, and other acts bring attention to downtown Los Angeles' homeless district with a politically charged free show.
The concert stage for the Operation Skid Row festival was set up on Gladys Avenue between 5th and 6th, in the heart of downtown L.A.'s homeless district. As a white SUV turned onto Gladys, a murmur rippled through the crowd, turning into a roar as the hip-hop legend, elder statesman and co-organizer of the event, Public Enemy's Chuck D, exited the vehicle.
The goal of the free show Sunday was twofold: for hip-hop artists to perform gratis for skid row residents, and to spotlight the economic and political plight of L.A.'s homeless. It was no coincidence that it was scheduled the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. As speakers would pointedly note from the stage, this is also the 20th anniversary year of the Rodney King riots and the 25th anniversary year of Public Enemy's existence.
After leaving his vehicle, Chuck D spent a good 15 minutes walking through the crowd (a mix of skid row residents and fans from across the city), hugging attendees and posing for photos.
The necessity of erasing lines of privilege between celebrities and civilians, rich and poor, was a point Chuck drove home repeatedly in his roles as master of ceremonies and performer. His group Public Enemy headlined the largely old-school, West Coast-heavy lineup, kicking off the four hours-plus show and setting the performance bar so high it was only intermittently reached again.
With Public Enemy's Flava Flav, Professor Griff and scowling S1W in tow, and backed by a full band and DJ, Chuck D led the collective through a blistering set that included classics "Shut 'Em Down," "Can't Truss It," "Bring the Noise," "911 Is a Joke," "By the Time I Get to Arizona," and — of course — "Fight the Power." The scaldingly political and timely (if not timeless) lyrics, along with the group's high-octane energy level (yes, middle-age black men can jump) sent the crowd into a frenzy that held from the first note to the last.