Once upon a time, even he was a sweet soul brother
(hit dustykid's page for more (and better) flyers)
A.G. - "Frozen" (mp3)
Lyrics Born - "Lady Don't Tek No" (live) (mp3)
Most hip-hop performers will agree there is an art to hip-hop performance. If so, it could certainly use some refinement. Sure, most artists seems to be familiar with the general guidelines: crowd participation, usually articulated through call and response or some physical gesticulation like a wave of the hand or flipping the bird; yelling; declarations that affirm existence ("(fill in the blank) in the (mother-)fuckin' house!"); punctuating this declaration with the n-word (only if the artist is of African-American descent; Latinos choose to use this word, depending on their comfort level); more yelling; public product announcements, usually related to the latest product the artist has produced ("(fill in the date): cop that shit!"); punctuating this declaration with the n-word (see previous); praises and/or salutations to each of the sexes/places of residence/ethnicities (to which the audience responds with either a "hey!" or a "ho!", depending on sex); and some more yelling.
As deliberately engaging as these procedures are, they are also familiar to the point of being taken for granted. Whether a concert-goer has even been to a hip-hop show before is no longer an issue, because he/she can be exposed to these tropes through a litany of media sources: be it through the odd televised concert special or the more common music videos, commercials, movie scenes, etc. An audience member doesn't have to "be" hip-hop in order to be a functioning member of a hip-hop audience. As democratic a thought as that may be, it also makes for a predictable affair that can be bullet-pointed and checked with great ease, like above.
I imagine most hip-hop artists are aware of this situation, but in facing this dilemma are really confined to the limits of their creativity and resources. I say creativity because I am reminded of the first time I saw De la Soul and will always remember how Pos and Dove split the audience with such patience and humor, pitting each half of the crowd in a competition of hollers. Of course, I've seen the trick over and over, but seldom with any tact, grace, or even spatial awareness of where the dividing line(s) should be. This ain't rocket science, people. That said, the Juggaknots occasionally sound like rocket science, so you'd think they could handle a simple bit of crowd particip. At B.B. King's last night, no, they couldn't.
I also mention resources because, post-Roots, everybody this side of Hovi wants to have a house band. Sure, and big bands wanted to keep touring post-WWII. But who would foot the bill? Which is to say, rare is the group that has the business acumen, talented contacts, and musical vision to sustain a live live show (holla at the Coup).
Not to say lack of funds means lack of fun. Just a balanced combination between creativity and cash.
Going back to last night's show at B.B. King's (Prince Paul's Ill Out Crew hosted a lollapalooza featuring the Juggaknots, A.G., CL Smooth, Dres, Freddie Foxxx, and Stetsasonic ~ sounds dope, right?), I was pretty disappointed with, well, most everything. Either their stage presence was off, or the pacing of the show (nonexistent) marred their set. I don't have time to go into details, but I was disappointed to finally see A.G., only to watch him hit the aforementioned predictables over and over, over the course of a 15-minute set. I posted up the lead single "Frozen," because the low point of the show was when his DJ cut off one of his rants to announce the close of the set with a Madlib-produced "banger." Go ahead, take a listen. Sounds nice, right? IN YOUR FUCKING HEADPHONES. I want to give A.G. and his new record the chance to flourish out there, because it's quite impressive. But, fuck if anyone's gonna buy it after listening to this over a blaring sound system in the middle of a performance born straight from crash and burn.
I'd like to counter with an impressive alternative, a "this is how we should do it," Lyrics Born's live record. Sure, live albums are usually perceived as contract loopholes or the death knell of an artist's career. And, quite often, they are. So, where does that leave a live album from a rapper who is only one (two if you count a remix joint) album deep in the solo game? If you're one half of Latyrx, former digging partner and co-label honcho of DJ Shadow, tongue twisting freestyle extraordinaire, and a generally funky cat then the chips will be stacked in your favor. Since embarking on a solo career a couple years ago, he has worked hard to reach beyond his core underground hip-hop audience by recruiting a formidable band to reshape his modern funk revisions. The approach has worked, as evidenced by the sheer mania his tours have evoked. And peep how he pimps the classics (which were aother constant point of reference for last night's unabashedly golden era audience) before strolling through "Tek No."
Maybe I'll go into this in a column instead. But, rappers: please, get your live game together. I know y'all are like DJs, making records to tour. But if your live game is tight, you can be like Lyrics Born and his paltry discography: touring to make records. Like GZA said: "You got to diversify your portfolio, bitches."