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Last Thursday, one of the largest rap invasions in recent years descended on Northern Virginia. Under the “Smokin’ Grooves” banner, a battalion of hiphop’s finest foot soldiers stormed Nissan Pavilion with a simple assignment: rock the crowd. Such missions are not unusual, but the target was definitely an unusual one. Set in the midst of Manassas, the Pavilion was a sea of white suburbia occasionally interrupted by islands of black or brown. You might have expected to see the insignia of Metallica or Hootie and the Blowfish borne aloft. One car even sported a “Rush Limbaugh for President” bumper sticker.

But the Smokin’ Grooves platoon would not be denied. No one better personified this than the highly decorated hiphop storm trooper, Busta Rhymes. Charging into the fray like a berserker, Busta literally ran through material from his new album. It wasn’t his lyrics, or even the beats backing him, but the raw energy he brought to the stage that conquered the crowd. Running back and forth and dancing wildly, Busta looked like an eerie cross between a jester and an MC. He was Flavor Flav with skills. The only questions were why he was on so early, and why his act was so short.

But there was little time to think about that, because A Tribe Called Quest was up next. Starting it off with a freestyle barrage, Q-Tip and Phife went rhyme-for-rhyme to open up. Then, setting their sights on the lawn section, Quest rocked its classic “Buggin Out.” Heads up on the lawn couldn’t resist. A wave of fans stormed from the lawn into the pavilion, while security stood helpless. Q-Tip got the crowd amped even more with call-and-response, hiphop style. “Is D.C. in the house?!” he asked. “Yeah!” replied the crowd. “Then make some muthafuckin noise!” Tip responded.

Tribe definitely had the crowd open, but Busta wasn’t done yet. After rocking “Bonita Applebum,” “Relax Yourself,” “Award Tour,” and “Can I Kick It,” Tribe came off with the classic posse cut “Scenario.” True hiphop heads could feel what was coming, and right on cue Busta ran onstage, immediately hyping the crowd with his classic verse, “Rawl, Rawl like a dungeon dragon/Change ya dirty drawers cause your pants are saggin!” Even when Tribe continued with “Check the Rhime,” Busta stayed onstage, adding energy to the act.

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Then the Fugees stepped up to the plate. Wyclef set it off, announcing, “We call this the hiphop circus!” With an electric guitar slung over his neck like a machine gun, he ripped into a medley that ranged from Slick Rick’s “Children Story” to James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice.” But once again, Busta was not done. When Wyclef kicked off his rendition of “Woo-Hah,” Busta stormed the stage again, uttering his trademark, “Yah, Yah, Yah, Yaaah, Yah!” And when Wyclef began his version of “No Woman No Cry,” Busta even sang part of the first verse.

Wyclef then summoned his partner Prazwell out. But it was Lauryn Hill (aka L-Boogie) who took it all when she came out and broke into a fierce freestyle that sent the crowd into a chorus of screams. The trio kicked “How Many Mics,” “Fugee-la,” and “Nappy Heads.” Wyclef and Lauryn vigorously covered the stage, looking completely at home, while Prazwell, as usual, looked completely obsolete. “He’s dead weight,” a blond girl in back of me mumbled.

Yet whatever Praz lacked in performance Lauryn made up for with her rendition of “Killing Me Softly.” One of the biggest problems with some R&B singers is their inability to sing live (see Mary J. Blige for further info). Lauryn’s voice not only filled the amphitheater but sailed up over the lawn, putting even the most strident of naysayers in a melodic headlock.

It was hard for the Fugees to follow that up, but they pressed on with “Cowboys” and “Zealots.” Again it was Lauryn who set the joint on fire, with her oft-quoted line, “And even after all my logic and my theory/I add a muthafucka so you ignorant niggas hear me.” While in theory Lauryn is only one-third of the Fugees, in reality, on wax and onstage she’s two-thirds. Wyclef is an excellent performer and is clearly capable of rocking a party, but L-Boogie is a multitalented star in the making, and as long as the Fugees are a group he’ll be in her shadow. As for Praz, he shouldn’t even be allowed on the same stage.

By the time Cypress Hill came up the sun was setting, the air was getting chilly, and though no rain was forecast, a thick cloud hung over the entire lawn area, as Cypress Hill fans provided their own interpretation of the “Smokin’ Grooves” tour. B-Real of Cypress Hill, who once rapped, “Tell Bill Clinton to go and inhale,” encouraged the weed smoking, telling the crowd, “Ya’ll got some good weed down here!” As night took over, the landscape was dotted with lighters, as people sparked blunts. Billy Wilson, a Tribe fan from Wheaton, summed things up: “Everybody here is pretty much fucked up.”

Cypress rocked some of its classic joints like “When the Shit Goes Down,” “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk,” and “Hits From the Bong.” The highlight of the Cypress act featured an inflatable Buddha with a hemp leaf on its chest. Some concertgoers wondered why Cypress was allowed to go after Busta, Tribe, and the Fugees. But Cypress is more popular among white kids than black, and white kids were in the majority.

Last and definitely least was an anticlimatic Ziggy Marley, who ran through his list of hits but also did some of his father’s material. Many in the crowd appeared to be closing their eyes and attempting to imagine that Ziggy was his father. No such luck.

Grooves was a high-energy affair, though it was dimmed somewhat by the traffic that many had to endure to get out to the Pavilion. But once the house was packed, the combination of Busta, the Fugees, Tribe, and Cypress Hill left Nissan Pavilion smokin’, in more ways than one.CP