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Public Enemy bum rushes Skid Row for all-star block party

By Paige Osburn
Published: Monday, January 16, 2012, at 09:15AM
Paige Osburn/KPCC

Public Enemy play Operation Skid Row

Don’t call it an occupation - it’s an operation.

“Nobody want to occupy this!” exclaimed Chuck D of Public Enemy at a press conference Sunday morning for the free Skid Row block party formerly known as "Occupy Skid Row."

“Occupy be lookin’ over their shoulder at Skid Row. Skid Row been here for a long time,” he told reporters.

And while you’re at it, don’t call it a concert. Thanks to questionable permits allowing a “street festival” but not anything “related to amplified music,” the event (emceed by Chuck D and featuring over five hours of free rap) did some hasty syntactical backpedaling when it raised its curtain Sunday afternoon.

“This is not a concert!” cried spoken word artist and Leimart Park resident Medusa during her turn onstage. “This is a festival. We are here to be festive to the whole and the giving to the whole!" she said.

"It’s about getting all power to the people and all people to the power,” she explained.

The free not-at-all-a-concert jammed for almost five hours Sunday afternoon, beginning at 1pm and continuing into the dark. The LAPD sectioned off Gladys Avenue between 5th and 6th Street for the event.

Hosted by Public Enemy and the non-profit LA CAN, Operation Skid Row was largely uneventful, perhaps due to announcements warning that “you guys are welcome to stay but just remember, [if the LAPD] shuts us down, it’s cuz of ya’ll.”

About two dozen police officers were present but spent much of their time standing near the back of the crowd, directly to the right of a display for, ironically.

A few hundred people were in attendance, enough to comfortably pack half of the city block and trail off into 5th Street. Several organizations were represented, handing out free fruit, bean burritos, and even paperback books.

Of those who made it out, only about a handful were actual Skid Row residents. Many more had driven in from places like Oakland and Santa Monica, something festival sponsors LA CAN were actually wishing to avoid.

“I mean, it’s a festival for the residents [of Skid Row],” said Christine Petit of LA CAN. “We were sort of hoping to keep it, you know, down. But word gets out.”

Besides Public Enemy, other hip-hop groups like Kurupt and Nipsey Hussle had their time to rock the mic. Others who performed included Freestyle Fellowship, YO YO, XClan, Mellow Man Ace and the ZZYZZX, King T, Rapper’s Rapp Group, Sir Jinx and General Population, Stilztik Jonz, JAHI, Arise Roots, the Egyptian Lover, Skid Row Flowing, Drummers, Joses Song, Linda Harris, Big Mack, OG Kid Frost, L.A. Possee, and "the Real" McCoy.

“Getting introduced by the legendary Mr. Chuck D. - It’s an amazing feeling.” marveled James “the Real” McCoy onstage.

Each set lasted only two or three songs, with segues provided by either Chuck D, spoken word poets, or community activists from the area.

One of the more touching moments came when PE's Flavor Flav gave a candid and sincere speech about his former days as a drug addict on the LA streets.

“I was locked up for a whole bunch of years of my life. Know what I’m sayin’?” recalled Flav. “I gave the system a whole lot of days of my life. You know what? I didn’t go back. You know why? Because deep down inside I really, really felt, I really understood that I am somebody!

Later in the day, Chuck D sang his long-time partner “Happy Birthday.”

Public Enemy itself only played once- at 2:00pm, instead of the rumored 4:30pm, causing some fans irritation.

"They already played?!" exclaimed Edna Jones from her perch on her 'fixie' bike. "Are you sure? Took us an hour to bike here."

Two men passed out due to heat exhaustion throughout the day, one man in the early afternoon, and the other in the evening. Both times LAPD officers summoned an ambulance to survey the damage.

“I thought [the police] just meant, like, a paramedic would be through,” said Natalie Stewart, sister-in-law to one of the men. “Then when the truck took him out, and [Public Enemy] started playing ‘F—k the Police,’ oh my God, I thought I was gonna die.”

An ill-timed chant of "Do the pigs own this city? HELL NO" also started up as the ambulance pulled in to lead the man away. Stewart insisted that he'd "just forgotten to eat breakfast".

Early in the day, a fight broke out between two homeless inhabitants of Gladys Street, something a few of the other residents say isn’t uncommon.

“Three, maybe four times a day,” Daniel Britt says he witnesses a fight. Britt describes his occupation as "a normal taxpayer" complete with a wink.

“It’s just a bullfight over $10 rock," he explains. "They get all smoked out, fighting over stupid stuff. If someone comes out here and says ‘fight for this, to the bone’ they’ll do it.”

Most audience members heralded the block party as a success and pledged their commitment to the cause.

“It’s a good idea!” exclaimed Carolina Sanchez, a social worker from Ontario. “It got people out here, and it’s gonna get the word out. We need a solution to get people outta here.”

Nevertheless, some residents of Skid Row remained skeptical. Lucius Smith, 56, comes to Skid Row to eat but not to sleep “because of the fights.” He’s been HIV positive since 1984, and lost his longtime friend and seven-year roommate to the disease just over four months ago.

When asked if he thinks festival-goers will be back, he just shakes his head.

“They got beds,” he replied. “They’ll sleep in them.”


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