Wednesday, April 9, 2008

good vs. bad live hip-hop

RZA’s a producer, not a rapper. Not to get all controversial here, but I’m not the first to say it.

Nevertheless, I’m kind of intrigued about his upcoming tour. He’s skipping Boston, so I’d have to road trip. This is further tempting, because the Trocadero in Philly would be perfect for RZA’s crazy shit. Then again, I haven’t been to the Troc in probably, uh, 12 years? It may have changed.

To make a huge generalization here, it’s difficult for hip-hop to be good live. So I’ve come up with guidelines for good and bad live hip-hop.

Three ways to make live hip-hop good:

1. Live band. Think: The Roots. You can’t deny the supporting beats of ?uestlove and the diverse group of back-up vocals. Due to their collective musical genius, they get a little too experimental live (honestly, I think I once suffered through a 20 minute bass solo in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, but that’s when you go use the bathroom). However, they balance it with crowd-pleasing medleys of old-school hip-hop classics. I saw The Roots (or 80% of the Roots) back up Jay-Z, and the live band had a similar enhancing effect.

2. One mic freestylin’ + simple back beat. Think: Akrobatik. No pretensions here. Just showcasing the artist’s undeniable rhyming ability and love of the craft.

3. Insanely huge production that makes you forget what clowns the artists are. Think: this P-Diddy / Usher / Busta Rhymes / Pharrell performance from MTV’s 2002 Video Music Awards (note: "Pass the Courvoisier" starts at 2.45):

Two ways to make live hip-hop bad:

1. One guy + DJ pretending to mix it up, but really he just pressed play on the artist’s last album. Think: Common and Lupe Fiasco. Much, much love to you guys, but really now. Step it up. Q-Tip might be the exception to this. He’s just so damn charming and full of energy, and his beats are classic.

2. Huge ensemble who have never practiced as a group and have smoked enough weed to kill a horse. Do I have to tell you? I’ve only seen them live in videos, but man. Wu-Tang is incredibly painful to watch.

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