Christmas came early for TDE fans once again. For the third year in a row, Top Dawg Entertainment hosted its annual holiday concert extravaganza at the Nickerson Gardens Housing Project in Watts, Calif. on Tuesday (Dec. 20).
Each year, it’s a particularly moving event for Jay Rock who, like the label’s CEO, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, grew up in Nickerson Gardens. Surrounded by fans asking for photos and handshakes on this sunny Tuesday afternoon, Rock reflected on the celebration’s impact.
“It means a lot,” he told Rap-Up just before the concert kicked off. “It feels good to see us doing some good. When people look at the projects, they know what it is, but it feels good to put a smile on people’s faces…It ain’t nothing like doing good in your backyard and providing for the less fortunate. Being able to come back and do that is a blessing.”
Before kickstarting the concert, Top Dawg’s latest signee Lance Skiiiwalker shared what it meant to be part of the event, even though the Jehovah’s Witness didn’t celebrate Christmas growing up.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “It’s a blessing, first of all, to be a part of TDE and it’s a great feeling to be a part of this situation, especially for the kids. It seems like it’s going to be a huge event so I’m just grateful to be a part of it…I didn’t celebrate Christmas too much in my religion, but I still can appreciate it because it’s giving back to people. It makes people feel good.”
The feel-good celebration featured mini-sets from each member of TDE, starting with Lance. Isaiah Rashad and SZA followed with a joint set that included Zay Wop’s “Shot You Down” and SZA’s “Babylon.” From there, Ab-Soul got the baton and ran with it, performing “RAW (backwards)” and “Terrorist Threats” while fans put three fingers in the air for HiiiPower.
In between each set, the hometown hero Jay Rock played the role of host, performing hits of his own like “Hood Gone Love It,” which was appropriate since its music video was shot here in 2011. His Nickerson tattoo, which is sprawled across his forearm, was visible as he spit his Watts-inspired bars. “You ain’t gotta like it,” he rhymed. “But the hood gon’ love it.”
Rock also had the honor of introducing guests. At one point, he brought out O.T. Genasis for a medley of “Push It” and “Cut It.” Then, ScHoolboy Q had a surprise of his own. During his electrifying set, which featured “THat Part” and “Drug Dealer,” Groovy Tony brought Wiz Khalifa out for “Pull Up” and “We Dem Boyz.” The final surprise guest was A$AP Rocky, who emerged to perform “Yamborghini High,” “Crazy Brazy,” and “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2.”
Finally, King Kendrick joined Jay Rock for “Vice City,” which turned into an impromptu freestyle session for Dot. While filming the crowd with a GoPro, Cornrow Kenny improvised new rhymes for the 90059 standout. “Call me K-Dot and this is Jay Rock, y’all rest in peace,” he rhymed. “All them rappers they be talking about, Watts, right now, we gon’ R.I.P…L.A. we in the streets right here in Nickerson Gardens projects / Everybody in this crowd right now, tell me about that prospect.”
From there, Kendrick launched into a crowd-pleasing medley of “Alright” and “m.A.A.d. city,” which had good kids of all ages rapping along with the Compton hero who grew up just a short drive away from the area. Finally, Kendrick ended his set the way it began, with Jay Rock beside him as the TDE brothers performed “Money Trees.”
The celebration continues today. Fans in attendance on Tuesday were encouraged to bring unwrapped toys for children in the community for a giveaway this afternoon at Nickerson Gardens.
–Words and photos by Andres Tardio