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Busta Rhymes nonchalantly strolled on stage in front of a restless crowd of nearly 3,000 students a little after 11 p.m. Friday night at the Lavietes Pavilion.
The New York-born, Caribbean-accented rapper—along with members of his crew, the Flipmode Squad—had kept the crowd waiting for over two hours.
Students had formed a line outside of the Pavilion well before the 9 p.m. start time for the Springfest concert, sponsored by the Undergraduate Council and the Harvard Concert Commission (HCC).
Busta Rhymes was expected on stage by 10:15 p.m. after the student opening acts, according to HCC director Justin H. Haan ’05. Haan said the rapper ran into some traffic on the way over from his hotel.
But when he finally took the microphone, the multi-platinum artist sought to verify the title of his latest hit single, “I Know What You Want.”
Dressed in a purple and gold jersey embroidered with the word “Flipmode” and a matching hat, Busta Rhymes mesmerized the audience with some of his most popular songs, including “Make It Clap,” “Break Ya Neck” and “Pass the Courvoisier,” during his hour-long set under multicolored lights on a temporary stage.
Haan, who is also a Crimson editor, said the place “caught fire” when Busta Rhymes showed up.
Students waved their hands in the air, jumped up and down, and sang along. A few attempted to crowd-surf, though they were not very successful.
Due to inclement weather, HCC moved the concert from the Malkin Athletic Center Quad inside to the Lavietes Pavilion across the Charles River.
The concert began with an acrobatic display by the Harvard Breakers, a group of undergraduate break dancers. Brian D. Lee ’06 wore a black fedora as he contorted his body during a popping routine. Lee said the Breakers, which was founded just last year, did two of its biggest shows on Friday, at Eleganza earlier in the night and later at the Busta Rhymes concert.
After a presentation by the Harvard Spoken Word Society, the concert’s masters of ceremonies Okechukwu “Oke” W. Iweala ’06 and Ayodola “Ayo” Adigun ’06 hosted a freestyle rap battle.
In a scene reminiscent of the 2002 movie 8 Mile with the rapper Eminem, the final round of the competition featured Theodore “Teddy” B. Bressman ’06 against Mikal N. Floyd-Pruitt ’06. Bressman, who had won favor with the crowd for his witty yet off-beat verses, eventually fell to the smoother, more lyrically-sophisticated Floyd-Pruitt. The winner took home a $150 gift certificate to the new Adidas store on Mass. Ave.
Following the battle, Harvard rap group Tha League warmed up the crowd by performing some of their songs—an experience not altogether new to them. In February 2003, Nicholas H. Barnes ’05 (N.I.C.), Dominique C. Deleon ’04 (Satchel Page), Kwame Owusu-Kesse ’06 (K. Kess) and Brandon M. Terry ’05 (Hollaman), formerly known as The Justice League, opened for rap artist Fabolous at the Orpheum Theater in Boston.
On Friday night, they rapped and danced to their originals “Yeah Shorty,” “Stop Stop,” “Run It Back,” “Ina Di Party” and “The Moment I Wake Up.”
After the concert, Owusu-Kesse said he was happy that the crowd “showed us some love.”
“I saw a lot of people up front. They were vibing, dancing along with us, so it was real cool. I was really appreciative of the support they gave us,” Owusu-Kesse said.
Toward the end of Tha League’s set, which lasted an hour, students began chanting “Busta, Busta” in anticipation of the next act. But after about 30 minutes of mixing by DJ Gamble from New York, the crowd became impatient. Some students left even before Busta Rhymes arrived.
Once he showed up, the audience roared with applause.
“It was clear that Busta had widespread appeal, which was one of our top priorities,” said council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05. “I’ve never seen Harvard students get into a performance like they did [Friday] night," Mahan said. "The 2,000-plus people who stuck around got quite a show."
Helen O. Ogbara '05 said the concert was "refreshing."
"I feel like it was the first time that what was the chosen musician was what people wanted, so it was like everybody was out," Ogbara said. "He was really good at keeping the crowd very, very excited."
Jason A. Williams '04 said the delay between Tha League and Busta Rhymes "kind of killed the show a bit."
Nenna N. Nwazota '06 agreed. As she walked back across the river with her friends, Nwazota said, "Obviously my legs are aching, but I loved Busta Rhymes. The UC, they're stepping their game up."
The HCC was successful in its $40,000 bid for Busta Rhymes—$10,000 less than his asking price—in part because of funding received from the Office of the President.
Last November, the HCC held a concert featuring the band Guster. The event drew about 2,000 students to the Gordon Track and Tennis Center.
But some students complained that the band did not appeal to a majority of students.
"I'm happy that Harvard finally got the sense to get someone like Busta Rhymes to heighten student morale," said Natznet Tesfay '06. "I feel as if Busta Rhymes is marketable to all the people at Harvard, unlike Guster."
However, Jack F. Pararas, a prospective Harvard student from Needham, Mass., said the students who did attend the concert were not as enthusiastic as they could have been.
"I was sort of disappointed, to be honest," said Pararas, who was at Harvard for pre-frosh weekend and attended the concert. "It really wasn't the right crowd for it."
In addition to Busta Rhymes' delayed performance, some technical problems with the sound equipment riled some students.
"It's kind of disappointing that [Harvard] paid $40,000 for mic reverberations," said Malini P. Daniel '06.
All undergraduate students and pre-frosh with their temporary Harvard IDs were admitted free of charge.
“For the price of nothing, it was a good show,” said Philip Maywah ’03-’04.
Mahan said the council hopes to hold another concert in the Fall “if the budget will allow for it.”
—Jeffrey C. Aguero contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Andrew C. Esensten can be reached at email@example.com.
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