ll cool j © Dustin Downing

Timeless ladies' man LL Cool J, taste master DJ Jazzy Jeff, scratch king Q-Bert, legends De La Soul and the always unpredictable Z-Trip all in one venue at the Red Bull Thre3style in LA: Here’s what it sounded like...

If you managed to stay on your feet through the entirety of South By Southwest, the intersection of 4th and Colorado in LA is where you wanted to be on Saturday night. Though the gates didn’t officially open until 8pm, the line for the Red Bull Thre3Style had already stretched around two corners by 6pm. Weary ears desperate for a break from all the week’s rock ‘n’ roll madness were in for a serious treat as DJ-R, DJ M-Squared, Mick Boogie, DJ Q-Bert, DJ Jazzy Jeff, De La Soul and Z-Trip – with the help of a “supermoon” in the sky and a secret special guest in the wings – were set to move the crowd.

null © Dustin Downing
By the time I showed up, 4th Street was littered with people who were unable to make it inside. Pedicabs were “off-duty” and parked, their drivers standing on top of the seats to get a better view, and every rooftop crowd for a one-block radius was trained on the stage. After Switch bounced the crowd around for a half-hour, DJ Q-Bert was up next to flex his mind-bending turntable skills. A true innovator and technician, Q-Bert is amazing to watch on the decks, and a lipstick camera routed to a full projection on the wall next to the stage provided a clear view of his dexterous hands. Like Switch, his set was a brief 30 minutes, but it captivated from start to finish.

Next up was the magnificent DJ Jazzy Jeff, who opened his set with DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” before dipping into a primarily old school set that featured cuts like “Jump Around,” “Seven Nation Army,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” a remix of Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You,” and a few gratuitous seconds of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Breakers got down on an elevated, linoleum-covered platform set up beside the stage, and an MC provided a little extra auditory lubrication. At some point in the middle of his set, Jeff dropped a dubstep tune. This opened up a small hole in the hip-hop space-time continuum, which thankfully closed when he lay down a brilliant blend of “La Di Da Di” and “Teach Me How To Dougie.”

null © Dustin Downing


Legendary trio De La Soul was next up, as they ripped through a tight set that included Oooh and Stakes Is High, the title track off their 1996 album, which they dedicated to Jay Dilla.


null © Dustin Downing


Headliner Z-Trip started promptly at midnight, executing his trademark, genre-jumping style that included a special West Coast tribute to the late rapper Nate Dogg, who had passed away earlier in the week. Z-Trip packed in a few dubstep records, a three-song sinsemilla interlude, and a hard drive full of club anthems. It was merely an appetiser for what came next: a cameo appearance by the one and only LL Cool J.


By the time LL took the stage, the crowd – on the premises, on the street, and on the rooftops – had swelled to well over 7,500 people. Looking rather swell himself, the G.O.A.T. prowled the stage like a lion, and dropped verses to three of his biggest hits, including a mash-up of I Need Love and the guitar riff to Sweet Home Alabama (dedicated to the southern crowd, of course). Rock The Bells was his opener and Mama Said Knock You Out was his closer, and both cuts were delivered with the same ferocity LL came with over 20 years ago when the songs first debuted.


null © Dustin Downing

It was, in a word, incredible, and before you could dial your homeboy and put your phone in the air, it was over. Three songs and the truth, with the hint of a possible reunion with Z-Trip sometime in the future. Hopefully Mr Smith will make good on that promise. He’s fun to watch on NCIS: Los Angeles, but he can do far more damage with a mic than he can with a gun and a badge.

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