Rap Atlas: Oakland

Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium

10 10th St.

This was the other venue that Bill Graham Productions operated that used to do hip-hop shows. I remember seeing N.W.A. there with EPMD, Stetsasonic, Public Enemy, and Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. That was 1989, I think. There was a riot at that show, too. During N.W.A.'s set, Eazy-E fired a cap pistol into the air and the place went wild. Bedlam ensued, fools from 6-9 Ville started beating up all the white boys they could find. Outside the venue, shots started going off but somehow no one was hit. PE never got to perform. That’s the show that also contributed to the Oakland moratorium on rap concerts; the police couldn’t contain the crowds and they were real scared of hip-hop back then. Looking back, that was real unfortunate because 1990 was a peak year for Bay Area hip-hop: you had $hort, Hammer, and Digital Underground all at the top of their game, selling hundreds of thousands and even millions of units, playing sold-out national tours, and they couldn’t do a show in their hometown.

The ban was lifted at the end on New Year's Eve 1990; it was kind of a big deal. They had a show at the Kaiser that Too $hort headlined, along with Ice Cube, Yo Yo, Dangerous Dame, and Kid Rock. They promoted that as a “Stop the Violence” show. They had extra-tight security, metal detectors and stuff. $hort came out and told people to stay calm, he was a peacemaker. The show got written up in both the L.A. and New York Times, and there were no major incidents, so $hort kind of restored rap to society’s good graces.

But after Bill Graham died in 1991, they stopped doing shows at the Kaiser Auditorium, which was owned by the city. There have been just a few rap-related events there in the last 20 years, I can probably name them all. In 1996, they had a convention called the Gavin Sessions there, which 4080 was a co-sponsor for. That brought out a lot of rap artists and indie labels. I remember Peanut Butter Wolf had just started the Stones Throw label, he had a table and was selling 12-inch vinyl right next to these gangsta dudes who were real heavy Bloods. That was a trip.

The unquestioned highlight of that entire convention was Richie Rich’s performance, which he dedicated to his homie 2Pac, who had died just a short time earlier. Rich came out on a motorcycle and performed “Do G’s Get to Go to Heaven” with a picture of ‘Pac on a giant screen behind him. That brought down the house.

Later on, there was a show by the Roots there, and Michael Franti played a benefit for radio station KPFA in 1999. The only other rap show I can remember was in 2006, a benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims which brought out all the Bay Area rappers. Spice 1 was there, along with Too $hort, the Delinquents, San Quinn, Mistah F.A.B., the Frontline, EA-Ski, D’wayne Wiggins from Tony! Toni! Toné!. That was cool, it really showed that Oakland had heart for what was happening in New Orleans.

Richie Rich - "Do G's Get to Go to Heaven?"

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