Did you know Sweetwater was supposed to open Woodstock? After getting stuck in traffic, Richie Havens was called upon to fill in. Only expecting to play 4 songs, but asked to extend his set to buy time, Havens conjured a mesmerizing improv around the word “Freedom.” 40 years later, Tech N9ne paid homage to this iconic musical moment with “Speedom.” Steven shares the incredible story of these interwoven sonic treasures.
Welcome to the first 2021 edition of Throwback to the Future! We kicked it off by diving deep into Future’s 2017 “Mask Off” and the sample used from Tommy Butler’s 1976 “Prison Song” to close out 2020 here on MMH. This time around we’re dissecting another rap song, Tech N9ne’s “Speedom,” as well as discussing the inspirations taken from Richie Havens’ show-starting, guitar-strumming performance of “Freedom”.
Let’s start the show!
Kansas City, Missouri native and longtime independent rap giant Tech N9ne is known for his articulate, technical, fast-rapping ability and has worked with some of the speediest spitters to ever do it (Twista, Twisted Insane, Hopsin, Joyner Lucas, and Busta Rhymes—just to name a few). Arguably his most star-powered, speed-focused banger came in the form of 2015’s “Speedom”—also known as “WWC2 (Worldwide Choppers 2)”—a spin of Tech’s previous “Worldwide Choppers” from 2011’s breakout album All 6s and 7s. Though the original take of WWC features speed from all over the globe (including Denmark rapper U$O flaming in Danish and rapper Ceza going off in his native Turkish – with 8 rappers in total), Tech kept it at just two other certified speedsters in “Speedom.” Oft-featured, right-hand man and fellow Strange Music label legend Krizz Kaliko dropped a verse and took the chorus. Completing the trio was the inescapable, dominant force that needs no introduction: Mr. Mathers, doing what he does best.
Before I go a little more in-depth on “Speedom,” I want to bring in the late, great folk icon Richie Havens and talk about his unforgettable performance as the man bestowed by fate the formidable task of opening 1969’s Woodstock. With organizers scrambling and a massive crowd growing anxious, scheduled opener Sweetwater found themselves stuck in a traffic jam in nearby Liberty, far from being stage-ready.
With only a few performers actually on-site, stage manager Michael Lang first begged Tim Hardin to go on early, but Hardin refused, sticking to his originally-planned-on 5th spot. Lang then pleaded with Havens, later saying, “It had to be Richie, I knew he could handle it.” The passionate folk singer/guitarist and two of his fellow bandmates (Deano Williams on guitar and Daniel Zebulon on drums) reluctantly agreed despite bassist Eric Oxendine also being stuck in traffic. Richie quipped that Lang would owe him “big time” if he got any bottles thrown at him.
Originally scheduled for just 4 songs, organizers pushed Richie to kill more and more time. He ended up performing TEN total songs that included multiple Beatles’ covers. No one threw bottles. However, it wasn’t until his 10th song, having exhausted his entire library of tunes that Richie fully tapped into the moment. He went with an improvised riff and a simple, but powerful word, in what would become the unofficial theme song of the entire festival. Richie later reminisced on the spark saying he channeled “that word I kept hearing while I looked over the crowd in my first moments onstage. The word was freedom.” Blending the old Spiritual tune “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” with his signature, trademark style of guitar strumming and a heartfelt expression of “Freedom,” Havens created an experience that not only set the tone for the most legendary music festival to ever take place but birthed an uplifting anthem-of-the-times that will live on forever.
Helping achieve that eternal life-span, Krizz Kaliko channeled his inner Havens’ with his powerful bellowing, known well by fans of Strange Music, in the chorus of “Speedom.” Honoring the pace and soul of Richie’s live rendition, Krizz alters the lyrics to a more title-related take saying, “Sometimes I feel like I’ll never slow down.” The song starts off with a brief, rapid-fire intro from Tech N9ne himself, setting the stage as he references the origin of the song in sharing the conversation he had with in-label producer “Seven” Michael Summers,
“I said to Seven, ‘Richard Havens’ll be the man’
So we put it together thinking Eminem was a gamble
Guess not, cause he be the guest spot
Kaliko said, “what we doin’?, ” I said to ‘im let’s chop
So now the people finally get three of the best locked
Never be another chopper comin’ so let’s rock.”
Krizz then enters with his own “Speedy Gonzales”-style verse and takes over completely at the chorus with his Havens’ inspired vocals that flow straight into a fired-up Eminem—who takes his verse and makes the previously released “Rap God” look like a sweet lullaby. After another Krizz chorus, Nina flashes back with an even more technical verse. He throws around so many “F” sounding words that he sounds like he needs to be rescued from the blizzards of Antarctica. Absolutely mesmerizing. The song closes with a final round of Kaliko’s high-powered chorus that sounds impressively similar to the raw tone Havens sang with originally.
Though Richie Havens died in 2013 of a heart attack at age 72, he performed his entire life and dedicated much of his time to children’s empowerment. He educated young people on the effect they can have on the environment, even helping create his own organization called The Natural Guard. He also co-founded an oceanographic children’s museum in the Bronx called the Northwind Undersea Institute.
Upon looking back at his helicopter ride to the Woodstock stage, Havens said, “It was awesome, like double Times Square on New Year’s Eve in perfect daylight with no walls or buildings to hold people in place.” Donning an orange dashiki, Richie made his mark on a festival full of absolute legends like Joe Cocker, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and countless others. While recalling the entire experience to Rolling Stone, he expressed, “My fondest memory was realizing that I was seeing something I never thought I’d ever see in my lifetime – an assemblage of such numbers of people who had the same spirit and consciousness.”
At one point, in speaking about his trajectory as an artist, Richie said, “The direction for my music is Heaven.” I think that ended up ringing true until the very end. I can only imagine the jams he’s creating now that he’s Home. His ashes were spread around the original site of Woodstock, at Bethel Woods, during a large memorial service that took place on the 44th anniversary of the festival’s final day.
Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko, and Eminem have all had tremendous careers since their lone collab. Tech released his TWENTY-SECOND studio album, Enterfear, in April 2020, remaining one of the most successful independent acts of all-time. Krizz signed a contract extension in 2019 to stay a part of the Strange Music family after almost leaving the label earlier in the year. He released his seventh studio album, “Legend,” in September 2020. Eminem has, of course, kept busy with consistent releases; last month he dropped the deluxe version of his January 2020 album, Music To Be Murdered By. Basically, they don’t show any signs of Ever. Slowing. Down.
As a performer who never stopped shining throughout his 45+ year career, I like to think that Richie would, at the very least, appreciate that much.
Hope you’ve found something that sparks the desire to dig up even more in this edition of Throwback to the Future and be sure to catch us back at it with our third installment next month right here on MMH!
I’m going to go grab a copy of Richie Havens’ autobiography like I should have done a long time ago. Have a great week, friends, and as always, stay Strong!