Freaks Come Out at Night

Grandmaster Dee cuts a wide swath on the comeback trail

When Carter steps out of the room, Fresh gushes about his longtime friend. Neither Carter nor Whodini have gotten their due, he says. When the topic of VH1's Hip-Hop Honors (one of the closest things in existence to a hip-hop Hall of Fame) comes up, Fresh can't hold his tongue. "They should have already got it," he says. "They might have to change it to Hip-Hop Dishonors in a minute."

Ecstasy chimes in that he'd like to be honored, if only so that his kids will know that their father isn't just talking shit about being an unheralded legend. But he doesn't want to come across as bitter. "I don't want to be the angry rapper that says, 'What about us, what about Whodini?' We made our music, and the crowd still loves it. I don't care if they honor us or not."

"Truth is truth," Fresh insists. "And a lot of this has to do with your time on Rush Productions."

Grandmaster Dee.
Grandmaster Dee.
Grandmaster Dee rocks the crowd in Jacksonville.
Grandmaster Dee rocks the crowd in Jacksonville.

It's the second time the R-word (referring to Simmons) has been mentioned. The mood in the dressing room remains jovial, but the Hennessy and champagne are loosening tongues.

"When we started working with Russell, he booked us on the Fresh Fest, the Def Jam tour," Hutchins says. "He made sure we were on all the major tours. So I ain't go no beef with Russell, and I ain't got no beef with [Russell's business partner] Lyor Cohen. They got a beef with us. As far as they were concerned, there could only be one of us on top. And we were running on Run and 'nem [Run D.M.C.]. They live and they do their thing, but come on. We were kicking their ass too. Whodini ain't no joke!"

Minor controversy mars the tail end of Funk Fest 2007. Carter is supposed to DJ Bobby Brown's set, but the promoters pulled the turntables off stage, and their co-performance never happened. Brown and Carter believe that the organizers didn't want them to upstage the headliner, Frankie Beverly and Maze. And Brown and Frankie Beverly can't stand each other. They've traded words in public before, and Brown is seething. Brown and Carter have may shared bills for nearly 20 years, but tonight would have been the first time they would have performed together. When Beverly's entourage — led by Beverly himself, clad in a black suit topped with a bright-red hat — brushes past Brown's, it's the last straw.

"Oh, you're wearing the red hat tonight, huh, Frankie?" Brown says as Beverly slides past, pretending not to hear. "You lucky I don't knock that hat off your head, you faggot motherfucker."

The Whodini and Brown crews head out to a club across town. Brown arrives with his new girlfriend, several cousins, and his father, Herbert "Pop" Brown, in tow. They've eschewed the VIP room and are hanging out on the dance floor — bewildering curious onlookers who marvel at Bobby Brown in their midst.

Carter arrives a little later in a stretch Hummer, lugging a heavy crate of records to the DJ booth. Soon he's playing a mix of reggae, funk, and hip-hop while Dr. Ice works the crowd, basking in Carter's grooves. Suddenly, Brown decides to join in. He heads to the DJ booth — he's had a bit to drink — takes the microphone out of Ice's hand, and starts freestyling. The crowd goes apeshit. It's not the duo performance the two had in mind, but as organically and spontaneously as possible, Carter and Brown are working the club in unison. Carter drops the beat to Notorious B.I.G.'s "Warning," and Brown raps it word for word. It's more like karaoke than a real performance. Brown is too drunk to be coherent, and Carter is mostly playing songs with words instead of spinning instrumentals. From a purely musical standpoint, it's a shambles, but the two old friends are cracking up and having a blast.

Much later in the evening, everybody still on the premises is herded over to the VIP area in a separate building. There, Carter takes over a different set of turntables and spins an exclusive set that lasts until the wee hours. Brown alternately tends to his girlfriend and 77-year-old Pop (who is partying at least as hard as everyone else in the building) and occasionally busts out with what looks like a few choreographed New Edition dance moves. Despite it all, nothing about the night reeks of celebrity.

The night finally concludes after 5 a.m. A second posse of groupies has gathered in Carter's hotel room, and they get a bit out of hand. They're loud, and they start hitting on Pop Brown, who's more than game. He maintains that he's "got his Viagra ready and needs a woman like a fish needs a raincoat," but his son boots the girls out.

Most A-list rappers today are a lackluster album away from seeing their careers vanish, though it's hard to detect the undertow while it's happening. Whodini is lucky; there's an old-school circuit that can help keep a rap group afloat. But before a group can bounce into that market, things have to get ugly.

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