The Time I Rapped On Stage With The Roots

By Daniel Isenberg

In August, 1996, a bunch of my boys from White Plains and I went down to see The Roots together in NYC the summer after we graduated from high school, kind of as a last hurrah before going off to college for the fall. I was personally very excited about the show because I was an enormous fan of The Roots and had never seen them live before.

We arrived about a half hour before showtime, and parked a street over from The Knitting Factory. As we turned the corner towards the venue, I spotted Questlove sitting in shotgun of a parked car, playing tracks that were most likely off their upcoming album Illadelph Halflife for the dude in the driver seat. Then, as we got to the front door, we saw Black Thought about to walk in. So my boy, who we affectionately called K-Wet (and still do), grabbed Black Thought and was like, “Yo, you wanna puff this L with us?” And he stepped over and joined our cypher, as we lit up right next to the venue on the sidewalk. So all of a sudden, it was me, all my boys from home, and Black fucking Thought, smoking trees together before The Roots show.

The funny shit was that one of my nerdier looking friends, who rocked glasses and had bright ass red hair, had just seen The Roots open up for the Beastie Boys at Nassau Coliseum the year before, and snuck into some VIP area to get Black Thought’s autograph. And Black Thought totally remembered him, and was joking him about his approach to get the autograph, and how my boy asked him to sign a dollar bill. He had my boy’s signature drunk-walk down perfectly, from the high shoulders to the goofy grin. Hysterical.

The Knitting Factory wasn’t that crowded when we first got in there, and we settled in towards the back and continued what had already turned into a very memorable night. Black Thought and the band were killing it, and they brought out Rahzel, who also slayed it with a beatbox rendition of Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear” among other current classics. And they even brought out an unknown Erykah Badu, who made a strong first impression on the crowd by singing “Apple Tree.”

Toward the end of the show, Black Thought randomly started pulling dudes out of the crowd to bless the mic. After the second guy got pulled up, Wet grabbed me and was like, “Yo, you gotta go up there.” See, earlier that year, I started taking my rapping seriously, and began recording my own tapes to play in the whip with my crew. But I had never really performed like that before, other than at the White Plains High School talent show that spring, which was kind of a disaster because the music didn’t work so I ended up going acapella back and forth with the kid I was rapping with.

But I wasn’t scared of the mic, and Wet was persistent, like, “Yo, I’m gonna get you up there, come on.” So we made our way to the front of the stage, and Wet yelled up to Black Thought and was like, “Yo, let my man get on. He’s nice.” And before I knew it, Thought grabbed me and pulled me up on stage and gave me the mic. Holy shit.

The whole scene is very blurry to me, but I definitely remember looking back at Questlove, like, ‘Is this really happening?’

The whole scene is very blurry to me, but I definitely remember looking back at Questlove, like, “Is this really happening?” And he just kept playing the beat without changing his expression. Questlove has a way of doing that, and without a word or a look, he basically said, “The stage is yours, kid.” So I turned to the crowd and spit my favorite rhyme, which was about battling some dude in a pool hall, with The Roots backing me. This is how it went:

“Yo I was coolin’ shootin’ pool with my man K-Wet,
When this fella walked up in the spot tryin’ to set me off,
Saying I was soft with no skills,
Had to let this sucker know that Ipcus gets ill,
With the best, east to west you try to test
The kid with the S on his chest there’s no contest,
He set it off with a freestyle rhyme,
Give me room son cuz you can’t hang with mine,
Cuz i got bangin lines but this kid had ones too
The more rhymes we kicked the more the crowd grew,
So I kicked a little rap just to get the crowd going,
He flipped one back, doo doo with his flowing,
Got me open, kicked some old fly shit now he’s sweatin’,
Yo Stan Ip’s tongue is like a loaded weapon,
Spittin rhyme in all direction, I had this kid dizzy,
It wasn’t hard to see that Ipcus was gettin busy,
But he struck back, but fuck that I’m in the zone,
Retaliated off the dome and sent the bitch rapper home.”

I was in the zone while I was rocking up there. It was my impromptu Big Apple rap debut, and the band was completely lacing me. I was RAPPING WITH THE ROOTS ON STAGE WTF… and no one threw anything at me or booed, which was a good sign. I can vaguely remember the surreal feeling of being in front of a real New York hip-hop crowd with the best hip-hop band in the business backing me, but I know that in the moment, I was consciously aware that it was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. And when I was done, Black Thought dapped me up, and I hopped back into the crowd. It might as well have been a split second, but I’ll cherish that moment for eternity.

I was getting lots of pounds from random people I didn’t know, which was pretty cool considering that New York hip-hop crowds are notoriously hard to win over. And when I saw Wet, he was like, “Yo, you fucking killed it,” which meant a lot because he’s always been my biggest fan but also my toughest critic. And of course, I thanked him for getting me up on stage. If it wasn’t for him, I would’ve still been in the back, wondering, “What if….?”

All my other boys—who were scattered in the crowd and didn’t even see us make the move to go up there—they were fired up, too. My boy Matty B was like, “Yo, I went to get a beer, then I hear your voice on the mic, and I look up on stage, and I’m like, ‘Yo, that’s fucking Ipcus!’” It was the highlight of my life at that point, and still ranks way up there. As far as top life moments go, it’s probably getting married and watching the birth of my kids, and then that one time in ’96, rapping on stage with The Roots.

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Stan Ipcus is performing live at the Kosha Dillz album release party hosted by Peter Rosenberg on Monday, November 4 at Webster Hall. Set time 9:30pm. Info hereHis album Local Legend is available now. Get it here, stream it below. You can also read about the time he rapped for Kanye West.