Review: ‘Jason Moran & Q-Tip’ at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater

It started with the basics. Q-Tip took us back to the early days of hip-hop, to 1973 when soldiers were returning from Vietnam and the architects of hip-hop started doing their thing in obscurity. Kool Herc. Grand Master Flash. Afrikah Bambaataa. Soon Q-Tip had the audience singing and dancing along as he sampled The Suger Hill Gang’s 1979 release “Rapper’s Delight,” commonly considered the first hip-hop album.

Q-Tip and Jason Moran. Photo by Tracey Salazar for the Kennedy Center.

Fitting that Q-Tip started with the early days of hip-hop at a concert marking a new era for the Kennedy Center itself, for this concert – a one-night-only collaboration between the Kennedy Center’s two newest artistic directors Q-Tip (hip-hop culture) and Jason Moran (jazz) marks the Kennedy Center’s inaugural season of hip-hop programming. And how fitting that this night of new beginnings was the first concert performed in the freshly renovated Terrace Theater, which also had its origins in the early 1970s.

Soon Moran joined Q-Tip onstage, starting off on the Steinway Grand, one of three pianos flanking Q-Tip’s DJ set up. Moran’s set started out with his well-known rendition of “Planet Rock” and a version of John Coltane’s “Giant Steps,” as Q-Tip joined in with beats before the pair pivoted to Q-Tip’s “Let’s Ride,” and “Bonita Applebum,” Q-Tip’s first hit with A Tribe Called Quest.

It was a set characterized by improvisation and experimentation. In one poignant moment, Jason Moran turned to the audience and expressed his enthusiasm for having Q-Tip join the creative team at the Kennedy Center by noting that for young jazz musicians of his generation, studying A Tribe Called Quest was as essential as studying Thelonious Monk. “They were the same to us,” Moran explained.

After party. Photo by Tracey Salazar for the Kennedy Center.

It’s tempting to say that the best part of the night came after the Terrace Theater emptied out, when lucky patrons who didn’t leave immediately were ushered into a room across the hall that had miraculously been converted into a night-club with two bars, large projection screens and a DJ whose tune spinning was accompanied by a surprise appearance by Q-Tip himself performing “Vivrant Thing” from his 1999 album Amplified. The people were digging it, calling their friends to join them at the free event, and soon the Kennedy Center became the hippest nightclub in town.

Hip-hop now has an official home at one of the nation’s preeminent cultural institutions. 1973 to 2017. I would say it’s about time.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Jason Moran & Q-Tip played one night only on Friday, October 6, 2017 in the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets to future events at the newly renovated Terrace Theater go online.


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