“Lyric driven hip-hop is back,” Pusha-T declared from the Knitting Factory stage as hands and hollers went up into the air. The fervent anticipation surrounding the return of Clipse tops nearly everything else in hip hop’s recent years, and this was on display at the duo’s wall-to-wall packed show. The Virginia-natives became a success after 2002’s Lord Willin’, but after four years in marketing limbo with label Jive, fans have slowly grown into a fanatic cult following. Coolly commanding brothers Malice and Pusha-T opened with the anthemic “Virginia,” then ran through the funky “Cot Damn.” Their smash hit “Grindin'” could have garnered the biggest response, but fans were most excited to hear “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)” and “Mr. Me Too” from Hell Hath No Fury, their sophomore follow-up.
Houston repped earlier in the night with sets from Jokaman and DJ Chill, who hyped the crowd with heaters from hometown rappers Slim Thug, Rick Ross, and Paul Wall. The Southern sound was not lost on CMJ attendees, who leaned to the slow, weighted beats. Chicago-bred Naledge stepped to microphone in Chuck Taylors as one-half of Kidz in the Hall, with New Jersey’s DJ Double-O behind him on the turntables. The pair paid homage to early ’90s hip-hop in songs like “Cruise Control” and “Move On Up” by rapping over Souls of Mischief’s “93 ’til Infinity” and dropping references to another Los Angeles group, the Pharcyde. The Ivy League-educated group released their debut School Was My Hustle on the resurrected Rawkus Records, and the audience was most impressed with Naledge’s forward-thinking freestyle rhymes. New York alternative emo band Straylight Run kicked off the evening with a mixed electric and acoustic set, and hit a particularly high note when confetti dropped for an all out sing-along to “Existentialism on Prom Night”. EMILY YOUSSEF / PHOTOS BY ERIC NOWELS