Article by Ramon Pesante
Oh has hip-hop evolved. Just four years ago Nas delivered a strong statement to the culture. Hip-hop is Dead, the album served as a wake up call to the industry. Put the message back into the music and spark a mind. Not many artists hold the regard to wave the authoritative finger at a society of knuckleheads. But here we are in 2010, where a young Somalian that goes by the name K’naan, headlines a New York venue with an effective cause reaching listeners ranging from sixteen years of age to fifty (yes that’s) fifty years of age. Not to sell Wale short, the new school’s freshest freshman has some serious potential but definitely could evolve. It’s hard to swallow conscious words from a bragging artist. We can all thank Kanye West for that.
One thing that I look for in a group of performances is theme. I was particularly confused by the choice of opening acts for the headlined performances. Washington DC native Tabi Bonney opened the show with some of the most generic bubble gum rap I’ve heard since Chingy. He encouraged the crowd to adopt his home made catch phrase “Syce it.” His techno house driven song “Superhero” left a positive impression. I felt like Luscious Jackson was going to jump up on stage at any moment. Never the less, he managed to win the approval of the young and dominantly white audience. Not sure if his swagger can be as easily welcomed by the more lyrically conscious listener.
John Forte may sound familiar to most old school hip-hop listeners. He served as a producer for the Fugees’ multi-platinum and Grammy-winning 1996 album, The Score. Unfortunately he was incarcerated for seven years and is now the second opening act. His performance took the mood in quite the opposite direction. The old school producer had amazing acoustics, and his hypnotic storytelling had both my ears wide-open to his struggles to start his life over. I wish I could say the same for the majority, which is quite tragic because Forte was preaching “School House Rock” to Generation Nexters. I actually saw someone put out his joint for the remainder of his set. I guess Badu wasn't looking for an opening act.
After Forte’s slap of reality, DJ Omega hit the stage and served an awesome fifteen minute Jay-Z mix that shook the crowd back into levitation with every person in the building (including myself) throwing up the diamonds. This crowd pleasing session allowed Wale to hit the stage with impeccable timing. His cocky yet conscious lyrics brought back the quest the tribe called with a flow only the Lost Boys could take credit for fathering. (Ahem) I lost the feeling to my head when he performed “Lookin at me” featuring samples from MIA’s “High like Planes.” The high tech beat had me in a techno circus. “Niky Boots” fit his cocky yet personable charm like a glove. Fellow Rock Nation label mate, J Cole, offered some of his lyrics to Wale’s laid-back track “90210.” The young artist managed to drop chins with the punch line “All I want to do is eat, I’m like a Freaky Lesbian.” You got to admire how a young artist can creatively describe his hunger for the game.
The acoustics to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” served as the red carpet to K’naans explosive entrance. The mixture between his soft toned vocals and slick rhymes were well portioned. Every song he performed had a mood of its own that immediately imperialized the atmosphere. “This is Africa” was by far the most energetic of his compilation. (I shit you not, when I tell you he had a fifty-year-old white women shouting, “This is Africa! Hooray” as she nearly ripped her blouse off.) It was during his moment of a capella that granted him his title as a true rebel. “Probably get a Grammy without a grammar education, so fuck school and immigration.” (Let that marinate) Growing up in the streets of civil war in Somalia is a true story to be told by such a talented artist. These other artist better leave “I was raised in the New York City Projects” gimmick alone. “What? Son, I grew up in Somalia! My momma shot me!”
Just when you thought the show couldn’t have gotten any better Nas and Damian Marley paid an unannounced visit and performed 'As We Enter' off their upcoming collaborative album Distant Relatives. Marley’s stern Rastafarian lyrics blend well with Nas’ illmatic thought provoking punch lines. What a short but exciting preview!
Ramon Pesante is a contributing writer to With This I Think I'm Officially A Yuppie. This concert took place April 1.