American Idyll

"La di da di, we like to party!"

The Anaheim Grove was booming Friday night with sweaty, jiggly, old-school hip hop fans, gathered for Doug E Fresh, "The Human Beatboxer" as he was known in his heyday, circa 1985. Doug E was supposed to appear with his longtime cohort Slick Rick, but Slick Rick was sick. Disappointing, to be sure, but that didn't slow down the party. Doug E took the stage and led an ecstatic throng through a retrospective mashup of the best of 80's hip hop and rap - everything from Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash to the theme song from The Jeffersons. We were all shaking our money-makers and waving our hands in the air like we just didn't care.

Doug E is not only the acknowledged inventor and chief innovator of beatboxing, but he's also the embodiment of a Master MC. He held the audience in a thrall, singing half a line of a song and letting the crowd fill in the blanks. It was call-and-response euphoria, taking this transplanted New Yorker back to those heady days of the 1980's when hip-hop was fresh and positive and full of surprises, where every street corner featured a kid break dancing on a square of linoleum, and the subways blazed with wild style graffiti and Keith Haring chalk drawings.

The only low point in the evening came when the show ended - Doug E had to catch a flight to Miami. Another MC took the stage and in an audience-appeasing, time-killing maneuver, asked us if anyone had a rap to contribute. A skinny, white kid in a polo shirt mouthed a few beats into the proffered mic, and he was pulled up on the stage to do his thing. The kid gave a spontaneous show of inspired, masterful beatboxing, and the crowd went wild. He had us tangled up in his funky web for many minutes, all around me sisters were shrieking and laughing, nobody could believe this white boy could be so good, mixing beats with melody, spinning out his own medley of hip-hop highlights. Finally, a stage bouncer tossed him - you just can't have unbilled talent walking away with the show, can you? I found the kid after the show chillaxin' on a bench outside the club. He told me he's been beatboxing for ten years, which would be half his life. I figured he'd be flying high from his breakthrough moment, but mostly young J.P. looked sanguine, "It was cool," he said. Yeah, well, true dat.

White boy beatboxers are all the news -- unless you've been detained in a Gitmo holding cell you probably know that beatboxer Blake Lewis is poised to win American Idol tonight. In that spirit Idol has flown Doug E Fresh back to L.A. to appear on the show for a duet with Blake. At a small dinner party held Tuesday night in his honor, Doug E passionately avowed that Blake "is the real deal." Of course, both Doug E. and Blake are showmen, their gift is in getting an audience going, whether through beats or rap or personal magnetism -- the singing is almost secondary. There are some fusty muthas who would vote them off the island for that, but no one who loves a groove will contest hip-hop's infectious, delicious and lasting appeal.

Doug E spent the day Tuesday in Beverly Hills, shopping for something shiny to wear on the show. He came back from Gucci with a shirt and jacket, but no trousers. "Gucci is not designing for the black man's body," he said with a remorseful tongue clck before tucking into some red snapper. It's a tense situation certainly, and I'll be tuning in if only to see whether he's wearing pants. But have no fear, Doug E is permanently on record for getting nattily dressed:

"Clean, dry was my body and hair,
I threw on my brand new Gucci underwear
For all the girls I might take home
I got the Johnson's Baby Powder and the Polo cologne
Fresh dressed like a million bucks
Threw on the Bally shoes and the fly green socks
Stepped out my house stopped short, oh no
I went back in, I forgot my Kangol."

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