Posts Tagged 'Rakim'

eLZhi Interview

eLZhi

In September’s version of “What I’m Hearing,” I reviewed the solo debut album from eLZhi, The Preface. Late last month, I had a chance to sit down and chat with the up and coming Detroit rapper who has been in the game since the ’90s about the state of hip-hop, his progression as an artist, remix culture and politics. Enjoy!

AC: How are you doing? Where you at today?
EL: I’m over at my friend Phat Kat‘s house. Chillin over here, writing rhymes.
AC: Up in Detroit?
EL: Yea, we’re in Detroit right now.
AC: Start off easy…what’s the meaning of your name, and you have stressed capitalization in it. What’s the importance of that?
EL: The L and the Z are capitalized in my name because that’s what I used to go by before eLZhi, LZ. How I even got eLZhi was trying to spend out LZ, spelling it out wrong and it was elzhi and I was like, “Yea, I like that, I’m going to keep that.” At first there wasn’t a meaning to it, I didn’t know what it meant. Then I got into Slum Village and my boy Baatin was really big on Hebrew and was learning the Hebrew language and actually broke my name down to me and said my name means “God’s Spirit.” So the “el” is God and the “zhi” is 7 and 7 is a spiritual number.

AC: Talk a bit about growing up in terms of your relationship with music. What were some of your early influences?
EL: Before I started writing rhymes, my influences were things my Mom used to play. She used to play a lot of Motown records from Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, things of that nature. My auntie used to play Planet Rock, stuff like Jack the Ripper, LL. I got my first cassette tape from my Grandfather. He bought me a walkman and a cassette tape and it was like Fat Boys. So from there I was in love with the art form and started hearing a little Rakim, hearing a little Special Ed, a little Ice Cube and I was just gone after that, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue and be a part of.

AC: When did you first start officially rapping and writing rhymes and what were your initial experiences like both live and in the studio?
EL: I started writing rhymes at the age of 8. Things like “I figga like a nigga/pop the gun and hold the trigger/the gun is loaded 12 gauge I hold it/the bomb exploded one sucker corroded/and I just won’t stop til my lyrics pop/making sure that you weak and my opponent gets dropped.” That’s something I wrote when I was 8. My first rhyme that I wrote was actually off the top of my head. Another thing that kept me going on and on was one of my family members, she used to always want me to freestyle in front of people she brought around the house. By her pumping me up like that, it really made me want to keep going with it.

The first time I got in the studio it was kinda weird. Usually you’re just rapping on the streets, rapping in the hallways, lunchrooms, whatever, but when you put your voice to that mic, sometimes you don’t sound exactly how you sound to yourself when you’re just talking. I had to really learn how to control my voice, my breath control when I was in the booth, I was out of breath a lot of times, it’s just a whole different world. That’s really the test to see if you want to be an MC is mastering that booth, and mastering how you sound on the mic and then from there mastering how you sound on the stage. When I finally got it down pat, I was definitely satisfied with the outcome.

AC: You’ve done a lot of collaboration in your career with other artists. Talk about how you identify artists you’d like to work with, how that process comes about and what this constant collaboration has done for your career and your style.
EL: Basically, if I want to collaborate with someone, it’s cause I feel what they’re doing. Collaborations that came about in the past with us getting involved with people already in the industry, we just let the label know, cause at the time we were working with Capitol. I’m speaking on Slum Village, by the way, for those who don’t know. But at the time we were working with Capitol and we let them know that we were trying to get at Kanye. Now Slum worked with, before I got in the group, a bunch of cats from Busta Rhymes to Pete Rock to Kurupt to Common, Q-Tip, the whole nine. And those were strictly off the strength that they liked Slum’s music. You listen to the Detroit Deli album, I was a part of the group at that time, and we got Kanye, mainly because we really identified with his music and thought he was live with it, so the label hooked up the situation and he was actually in the booth. And just to see this guy in the studio, doing his thing, happy about making music and enjoying increasing the quality of his craft, it was inspiring, it made me want to take it to the next level. In these days and times, I’m just trying to get mine and I think about that from time to time and use that as inspiration to push forward.

AC: You’ve been a longtime artist now on the Detroit scene, and you were on the scene long before Eminem was, who in a way has become one of the biggest pop rap names out of Detroit. Have you noticed a difference in the feel and quality of the scene from before and after his discovery, and would you say by extension that artists from Detroit are tired of being associated with him?
EL: The scene was two totally different eras. Back then, hip-hop was a little bit more live, even to people in the mainstream because you could turn on BET and see Rap City and actually look at a Hieroglyphics video or a Black Moon video. Hip-hop was alive because you didn’t really have to go digging. Now you have to go digging. You’re not even really seeing videos from some of the illest artists that are out today, so it’s a totally different thing. It was strictly just on some hip-hop stuff, people werer just trying to make classic records, they weren’t even thinking about the radio.

After Eminem blew up, hip-hop was changing, so it was people back then doing it to make classic records, and now they’re trying to make classic records while at the same time making that radio hit so they can get on like that. But one thing I do like about it, is that in Detroit, I can’t speak for nowhere else, just us going off into that music for the masses or whatever, it’s a good thing and a bad thing. But I focus on the good thing. It made a unity happen in Detroit that wasn’t there before. You got cats like Trick Trick rapping with Royce, Trick Trick rapping with eLZhi, elZHi rapping with Stretch Money, it formed a unity. As far as Eminem, we never get tired of that. Eminem making it was like everyone else making it from that era and he set a real good example of how to come out of the hood and do good, so we’re definitely not mad at that. He represents all of us like we represent him.

AC: You just released The Preface, and I’ve been listening to this a lot…the album is hot. It was a long time coming for you to release an official solo album debut. Why did you wait so long and what was the process for you working on this album?
EL: It’s been a long time coming. The reason it took so long was I had to make sure my business was right. Slum Village as well as eLZhi was going through some label troubles, but everything is all good now. I did the album in like 3.5 weeks and what happened was I took a CD overseas to sell when I went on tour and that CD has become known as the Euro Pass. Really I was just taking it over there to sell, I didn’t know it would do as good as it did, as far as being on the internet like it was, and I just wanted to take control of the buzz and strike while the iron was hot. They basically told me I had this amount of time to work on a record, and if I didn’t, I would have to wait to put out a record after Black Milk, so I was like let me just get in the studio and buckle down and make some music from the heart but at the same time be snappy about it because I only had a limited amount of time to do it so The Preface was born.
AC: Was everything on The Preface original material for the album or did you take anything from your previous work?
EL: I took maybe three or four songs from the Euro Pass that circulated around the internet. Reason being for that is that these were songs people were expressing to me through Myspace that they enjoyed and I’m like, “I’m not going to take those away, especially if I can put it on another album and make it sound better than it did, basically breathe more life into it. So I didn’t want to do that to the fans who had that record, but at the same time I didn’t want to take everything off the Euro Pass and put it on The Preface cause I did want to make it a different record. So besides those 4 cuts, everything else is original.

AC: Is it true that most of the production on this album comes from Black Milk?
EL: Yea, most of the production is done by Black Milk, there’s a couple tracks done by my DJ who goes by the name Andreas or DJ Dez, and I got another one from T3 and another one was done by this dude named Demark Vessey. So I just wanted to give some new up and coming talent a chance to shine.

AC: What was working with Black Milk like and how did his musical ideas influence the album?
EL: To be perfectly honest with you, at the time, Black was working on his album (Tronic), so all I really did was take the Black Milk beats that were open, I took the best Black Milk beats I could find and put it all together and made the record. He would come in from time to time and put his ear on it, tell me what he thought I should keep, let me know how he should approach the record, change the drums or something. But working with Black is always an honor because we appreciate each other’s craft and we recognize the real and are coming together for one common cause, to breathe life into the game, so it’s always cool working with Black.

AC: What I like a lot about this album is that there’s a lot of variety on it in terms of the sound. You have harder hitting songs like “D.E.M.O.N.S.” and “Hands Up” and then you have more playful songs like “Guessing Game” and “Colors,” to the two really laid back ones that I’m enjoying the most, “Transitional Joint” and “Save Ya.” What are your favorite cuts and can you talk about your lyric writing process and how you incorporated all those different styles?
EL: Some of my favorite songs on The Preface. One being D.E.M.O.N.S. I was actually in Cali when I thought about this, I thought, “it’d be crazy if I broke the world down to acronyms and just made the D the E the M the O and the N mean something different throughout the whole verse not missing a beat,” so I was proud of myself when I did that one. Another record is the “Guessing Game.” For one, I’ve never heard anybody even attempt to do a concept like that. That came to mind when I was rapping in the backseat of this van. Me, Fat Kat and T3 were on tour and it just popped in my head like one of the lines I have on this song called “Fire,” where I was saying “technology,” and just the way that I played with the word “tech” and “nology” made me come up with the idea like what if I did this with words and tricked everybody into thinking I was going to say one thing and then I didn’t? So that’s how that concept came about and I’m glad I put that on the album.

Songs like “Talking in My Sleep,” I’m proud to say that’s a visual song even though it’s something made up, that’s something I imagined and put to paper so people could visualize it. “Save Ya,” “Transitional,” “Hands Up,” my writing process just varies. There’s times where I may write stuff down, but that’s rare. If it’s a deep concept and I’m trying to get real visual with you, so it plays in your mind like a movie, sometimes I write those down but other than that, all my rhymes are stored inside my memory bank, and I may write it in my mind before I go to the studio, or I might write it in the studio to a beat or scat a bit in the booth, so there’s so many different ways I approach writing.

AC: Going to broader industry questions, you worked extensively in mix tapes before you released this album. What do you think of the current state of the music industry and where do you see it going?
EL: I see the music industry being on the downlow tip. I see people buying records from the internet. I see the internet as the new streets. I remember back in the day being in New York and seeing promotional vans and people just stopping on the side of the street and opening up the back doors with music banging from the person they were promoting, while a street team was out in front of the van slinging fliers and giving singles away. I can recall when Eminem, before he put out his first record, he had that song “I Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” and his promotional tour was passing VHS tapes with the video on there out in the club. But now it ain’t like that anymore. The internet is so big that people are promoting what they need to promote on the internet. I just see music as being on the downlow where it’s sad to say that you see Tower Records folding here, a Virgin Records closing there and music stores closing in general. But I see music sales going straight to the internet.

AC: You were talking earlier about two different generations in terms of hip-hop in Detroit, but overall in hip-hop, how do you view the genre as changing, and do you view these as positive or negative changes?
EL: I see the genre changing in that rock groups trying to incorporate rap and rap groups are trying to incorporate rock. And to me that’s not a bad thing, because it’s all about evolving and changing. I’m eclectic. I like Bon Jovi, I like Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, so I’m all for hip-hop changing and flipping, as long as the music sounds good, I don’t have a problem with it.

AC
: Following The Preface here, do you see yourself working on some more solo stuff or going back to collaborations for the next part of your career?
EL: Well I’ve got a mixtape coming out in December, I like to give a shout out to one of the illest rappers who’s still breathing right now, Nasir. I’ve got a record where I’m giving tribute. I actually got the idea from my boy DJ House Shoes and the name of the mixtape is Elmatic and it’s a tribute to the classic album Illmatic that Nas put out so in a way it’s me giving my own personal hip-hop honor to him, so I’m getting that mixtape ready, hopefully it should be ready in December. I’m working with Fat Kat on his new record, I’ll be on like 80% of that record. I’m also working with T3, we’re doing a mixtape for DJ Who Kid right now but at the same time me and Royce are getting our thoughts together for our collaboration, but at the same time I’m still planning on putting out an album after the mixtape called The Feed and that’s going to be bigger and better than The Preface.
AC: You’re a busy man.
EL: It’s about that time. We’re living in a whole different era right now where we need to be in peoples’ faces and we gotta work overtime. But to me it doesn’t even feel like work cause I love to do what I do, but yea you have to stay busy if you want to stay relevant.

AC: What has your career in hip-hop taught you about life and what has life helped you learn to enhance your hip-hop?
EL: What hip-hop taught me was just to go hard at everything I do. Taake it to the next level with everything I do in my life. And my life influenced my hip-hop because everytime I pick up the pen I write about something that’s happening in the street or happening in my life, personal things, my wants, my fears, so it’s always influencing me in terms of what I write in my verses and the concepts that I think about. So you can’t help but let it influence you like that because you live in it everyday and if you rap about it from the heart it’s gonna automatically come off that way.

AC: A lot of bands outside of hip-hop, most notably Radiohead, have started letting fans remix their songs on the internet. Do you view that as a positive form of interaction with fans, and would you let your fans remix your cuts?
EL: There’s been a couple of times when I got my stuff remixed. This is what happened. My record came out and somebody took one of my songs and put their verse at the end of the song, then put that version in with the album and had it where people could download it. So when certain people downloaded the record, the version with that person rapping on my record is the version they got, so they’re thinking that’s what the record sounded like. I don’t agree with that, but as far as people wanting to put their spin on it or be heard or whatever, it’s all fun, it’s all good, I’m not mad at it, go for theirs is what I say.

AC: To get a little political with you, we’re in a massively important election. Have you been following it and do you have any thoughts about what direction our country needs to head in?
EL: I’ve been following it a little bit. It’s time for a change, my people here in the D that aren’t into this rap game and work regular jobs, there’s cats getting laid off, can’t find jobs here. So that needs to change. The economy as a whole, I mean gas is starting to look a little better, but man, it was even better than this at one point and we’re just happy it’s at this level now, but it was worse only a few weeks ago, maybe a month ago. The economy as a whole needs to have a makeover and I just feel it’s time for that change, and like you say man, this is a real important election and everyone needs to voice their opinion and vote, and I’m voting for Obama, and that’s just how it is.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 5

For July’s update, click here.

So, while this post comes early September, make no mistake, this is the breakdown of the August playlists. It was a fine update, featuring 13 artists (not including Indiefeed Hip-Hop artists, thanks to Dirty Dutch, good look on the playing) from several continents and a slightly ridiculous 249 songs. That being said, a lot of the music was looking backwards, a hip-hop retrospective spurred by the stellar line-up unleashed at Rock the Bells at Shoreline. So I’m not going to break down old favorites like De La Soul, Nas and Rakim other than to say if the names sound new to you or you haven’t heard the old albums, it’s time to do some crate digging. This update did some traveling in both time and distance, but also had some brand new things from right here at home. That being said, enjoy.

Amadou Balaké, Señor Ecléctico: This 2008 re-issue of this African born singer’s earlier work is a raw and beautiful collection of 70’s recordings displaying a wide range of musical styles and explorations. The album moves along at a very pleasant pace and features an undiluted exuberance and musical and vocal harmony fusing summery world music that can at times sound too pre-packaged in today’s world releases. Lilting guitars, solid horns, funky bass and solid drumming all share the stage. Some tribal, some soul, some funk and some reggae all permeate here in equal parts to make for a fantastic mixmatch of sounds that is often enhanced by the lo-fi quality. Don’t Sleep On: “Djeli Fama,” “Mousso Be Torola,” and “Kambele Ba.”

Black Kids, Partie Traumatic: If you haven’t heard of this group yet, you’ve missed this summer’s indie media darling. This Florida spun band featuring a brother and sister revels in the punk pop and retro synth movement with solid walls of guitar and a mixture of male and female leads. While they originated right here, they recorded and broke out across the pond and opened for another artist we dig over here, Cut Copy. While some of their pop tricks fit perfectly in songs that go great on repeat, others stretch to points of annoyance including a chant straight out of Wizard of Oz. All in all though, the album brings the mesh together and produces several dance and bursting with excitement tracks that have trouble staying contained in the speaker. Don’t Sleep On: “Hit the Heartbrakes,” “Hurricane Jane,” and the vibrant and danceable “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix).”

Buika, Niña de Fuego: The raspy voice of this Latin Jazz chantreuse takes on 13 tracks of various tempo and emotion, all to incredible results. Soft spoken bass parts, muted drums, delicate guitars and understated piano provide beautiful backdrops over which Buika’s voice soars, painting a variety of musically engaging pieces. Even though I can’t understand a word she’s saying, and therefore probably lose much of the poetry offered on this album, the range from smoky romantic tunes to unrestrained and energetic tracks aid a variety of places and moods. Don’t Sleep On: “Culpa Mia,” “Arboles de Agua,” and “Mentirosa.”

Cao Fang: While I only went for some singles from this Chinese pixie popster that made the leap into US consciousness on the back of a GE commercial, many people will go in for the full albums, of which she has two. Sharing our friend Scott’s enjoyment of the Melodica, Fang brings an airy and light voice to pleasant and soothing melodies. Don’t Sleep On: “Scarecrow in the City,” “Icy is a Gentlewoman,” and “Orange Juice.”

Hanggai, Introducing Hanggai: I first heard about this group reviving parts of Mongolian folk music and mixing it with rock and pop influences from Pitchfork. But while I got to read about them in July, for some reason iTunes didn’t have them for me until August….they were worth the wait. The use of throat singers, lute player and fiddle (horse-hair mind you!) creates an album that is at times a bit unaccessible for some, but at others an extremely enjoyable ride. Don’t Sleep On: “My Banjo and I,” “Flowers,” and the next big bar “Drinking Song.”

Murs and 9th Wonder, Sweet Lord: Little Brother alum and star in his own right 9th Wonder uses his signature soulful and retro hip-hop beats to collaborate once more with Murs of Living Legends. What’s more intriguing about this one is the tie to other Internet freebie releases from Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, what was termed a gift to their fans. The album rips, Murs spitting incessantly over beats that never fail to engage. But don’t take my word for it. Go download it for free!

Rock the Bells at Shoreline Amphitheater, 8/16

For all the art, click this link.

Saturday, Gavroche and myself got out for SanDisk‘s Rock the Bells tour at Shoreline. If you’re in Denver on 8/23 or Washington on 9/6, don’t miss this show. Rock the Bells continues to set the standard in terms of large scale festivals bringing together a fantastic line-up that often doesn’t happen with hip-hop. Whereas some tours or shows will have one or two big names with a bunch of unheard of artists (not that they’re bad!), Rock the Bells this year features one of the most star-studded hip-hop line-ups I’ve ever seen. Even if you’re not a huge fan of hip-hop, this show features enough classics that it can serve as a tasty introduction to some music you haven’t heard and might enjoy.

Furthermore, one of the major plagues of festival shows, the lengthy and crowd-angering set changes between acts, was completely eradicated by the crew of this show. Utilizing a simple stage set up with a DJ above a large black screen with the name of the act, it took very little to get in and out of sets, and towards the end of the show it was 10-15 minutes between every performer. When you look at the Kanye fiasco (no matter who’s fault that was) at Bonnaroo and some of the problems that always come with numerous acts, the artists and the crew of this show have a lot to be proud of in their speedy set changes.

The event started with SanDisk’s royal treatment in their VIP lounge. They had an open bar and food served all day, as well as scheduling meet and greets with Supernatural, Dead Prez, Murs and De La Soul. The event is sponsored by them along with their new product, the Mobile Ultra Mini SD card, which gives your phone 2 gigs of memory. Seems to me the type of thing anyone with a love of music or movies needs. All I can say is that I hope the fans appreciate what SanDisk did in compiling this artist line-up and sponsoring the show.

The show kicked off around 11 with a short set from Wale, who is gearing up to release an album off Interscope. He was followed by MURS, who, despite being a kick-ass rapper, somehow got stuck with a mostly empty amphitheatre. But he brought energy to the stage in his quest to promote not only the free internet release of Sweet Lord, but also his upcoming Murs for President. With shorts, a concert promoted t-shirt and his signature dreads, MURS carried with him less pretension and more of a laidback aura than you might expect from a rapper of his caliber, but he’s truly about the music and the fans. At the meet and greet after his set, he not only posed for pictures with fans, but I even saw him take a girl’s cell phone and talk to her friend to convince the friend that this girl was actually backstage with him. Seeing him chat it up with some girl’s friend on the cell phone, just to help her verify she was there was one of those fan friendly moments that most artists will never get involved in. Murs seemed happy to.

MURS for President

MURS gives a fan's friend some proof (and continues his Presidential campaign)

Following Murs, it was a surprise to see Blackalicious released so early in the show. Between Chief XCel and Gift of Gab, they’re one of the truly gifted hip-hop groups that can take difficult songs straight off the album and reproduce them flawlessly live. More than that though, Gift of Gab is just plain fast. When you hear a song like “Alphabet Aerobics,” you don’t think there’s any way it could be performed live. It’s just too fast with too many tongue twisters. Gift of Gab makes it sound easy. At one point in the set, he did a fantastic mixmatch, using an old Puff Daddy beat to rap “To Know You” from 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up. To close the set, they freestyled at a frenetic pace, just to prove it wasn’t all just a stage show.

M-1 of Dead Prez

M-1 of Dead Prez

After Blackalicious, Dead Prez took the stage and put together a set that got the steadily growing crowd energized. They played about 6 songs, finishing with “Bigger Than Hip-Hop” which pumped life into the stage just as they were leaving it. One of the great things about Dead Prez was that they, like Murs, were extremely accessible to the fans backstage. M-1 set up shop on a couch with a bottle of Patron and stic.man spent most of his time talking to people. They’d pose for anyone that came up with a camera for them. Very friendly.

stic.man of Dead Prez

stic.man of Dead Prez

Immortal Technique followed Dead Prez with a set that I think pleased every Tech fan in the crowd, and shocked everyone else. I’ll start with a thank you to Immortal Technique and his crew over at Public Wizard as they set up the interview with Tech and put us in touch with the press department for this festival. For people who don’t know Immortal Technique’s music or message, hearing him on stage for the first time could have a very jarring effect on someone chilling on the grass drinking and smoking at a hip-hop festival. But as anyone who’s a listener knows, and as he told everyone at the show, he really doesn’t give a fuck what you think.

Immortal Technique

Immortal Technique

He’s far more politically oriented than any other rapper at the show, and he delivers his lyrics with an uncompromising style that doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not. He played a great set with “Industrial Revolution,” “The 3rd World,” “Harlem Streets,” “Point of No Return,” and “Peruvian Cocaine.” More than any rapper I’ve seen in concert, he never truncates his lyrics or songs, which makes sense for someone with that kind of power in the message. If Tech is in your town, check out the show. He’s intense.

In between Immortal Technique and Raekwon and Ghostface, Supernatural took the stage and ripped one of the longest and most interesting freestyles I’ve ever heard live. With people at the edge of the stage, he freestyled solo for about 5 minutes, rhyming about whatever random objects the people in front of him handed to him. He talked about the San Francisco Giants, Trident gum, a bracelet, anything. It was like watching an extremely gifted improv actor who knew how to rap. I hadn’t seen Supernatural before this concert, and I was blown away by the depth and length of his freestyle.

Following Supernatural came, in my opinion, the weak link of the show. Raekwon and Ghostface took the stage and fell flat. Despite having a large bottle of orange juice and a blunt on stage with them, Raekwon and Ghostface just don’t deliver live like other members of the Wu-Tang Clan that I’ve seen.

Raekwon and his OJ

Raekwon and his OJ

It’s not that they’re not solid rappers in their own right, major contributors to the Wu-Tang crew, and fantastic studio rappers, but live they just don’t perform like GZA and Method Man. While other artists at the show were able to engage me with songs I hadn’t heard before, I couldn’t get into any part of the set. I also took some issue that these guys forgot where they were, thanking Los Angeles at the end of the set. Some people thought they said, “The Bay,” but I know I heard them say, “L.A.”

Next up was Rakim who unleashed solid song after solid song. The crowd was heavily invested in this one as a rapper so old school that he’s referenced in an old school 2Pac song called “Old School” ripped through an energetic set in which he rapped with enthusiasm, skill and what seemed like an urge to have everyone in the crowd feel what he was feeling when he let it out.

Rakim enjoying the music

Rakim enjoying the music

I hadn’t heard any Rakim other than his work with Eric B., and I was thoroughly impressed with how natural he sounded even removed from the sound of the ’80s. What’s more is that you can see in his reactions to the music and his delivery how much he loves the genre. This was one part of the show I wasn’t sure about going in and was very pleased with coming out.

When De La Soul took the stage, the passion from the crowd poured out. Posdnuous went off stage and into the crowd and was immediately surrounded by the fans. The entire set was upbeat and very strong for a group who has been dealing with numerous release and record label issues over the past 8 years. Along with Murs and Dead Prez, this group was the most accessible backstage, taking time to joke around and take pictures with Pharcyde.

Dave of De La Soul

Dave of De La Soul

De La Soul’s grind was followed by the rowdy duo of Method Man and Redman. From the minute they ran on stage to the time they left it, these two brought the show and the crowd to a new level. While some people not too versed in hip-hop may have thought The Wire‘s Cheese was trying his hand at rapping, there was no question to a listener that Method Man showed up.

Redman opened up a shook can of Coke on stage and then did an interesting dance trying to avoid the spray. But the cameras in the photo pit had no such luck as the box of bottled water on stage quickly became projectiles for Meth and Red to chuck into the crowd. There’s usually a 5-6 foot space between the photo pit and the seats near the stage. Method Man invites the crowd to come up and they quickly fill in the gap, providing him a place to dive off the stage and into them. These two slammed through their set of well rehearsed fan favorites such as “Y.O.U.” and “Mad Crew” with incredible precision despite the crowd surfing and water hurling antics. There were several excellent moments throughout every artist’s set, but for the passion of performance and raw energy, no set rivaled Method Man and Redman.

The Pharcyde took the stage next. The DJ gave them a little flak for the length of time since their last album, and they got the “with special guest” billing from the tour. The set was good, and of course closed with “Passin Me By” and included “Runnin” which had the crowd enthused. For a group who hasn’t been together in years, it didn’t show in their on-stage chemistry. The set was well done and while most know Slimkid3 and Fatlip, there wasn’t any sense of animosity between them or competition for stage time.

Tre of Pharcyde

Tre of Pharcyde

The always eclectic Mos Def followed, coming on stage in a shirt from a Louisiana coffee/beignet shop, sunglasses, a trucker hat and an 80s windbreaker style jacket.

Mos Def

Mos Def

This changed throughout the set as he lost the jacket and hat, traded them for a bandanna and gradually got more relaxed with the crowd as the set went on. Up to this point in the concert, the sun had been on the other side of the stage, so it fit perfectly as the sun started raining down on the front side of the stage for Mos to perform “Sunshine.” Although it’s still hard for me to separate Mos Def the rapper from Mos Def the Def Jam Poet and Poetry MC, he carries a stage presence and swagger that just works.

Nas was next. While Method Man and Redman put on the performance with the most juice, Nas had the best set of every artist at the show. He started with “Sly Fox” off his new album (we’ll leave it to other outlets to decide whether to call this one Untitled or the N-word Nas originally wanted to slap it with), and then went on an all-out retrospective of his work with varied length pieces of “New York State of Mind,” “The World is Yours,” “Life’s a Bitch,” “Street Dreams,” “If I Ruled the World,” “Nas is Like,” “Got Yourself a Gun” (complete with an interlude featuring Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.”) and then doing a heartfelt rendition of “One Mic.” One problem with all the favorites is that rappers will drop out and let the crowd do some of the work…they paid to see YOU rap it! If they wanted to listen to themselves rap, they’d do it in their car or at home or at a karaoke bar.

Nas

Nas

Regardless of this fact, Nas’ set was more complete than any other in that he gave a taste of his new music but threw out all the favorites to remind the audience of his lyrical supremacy, and sometimes more importantly in rap, his longevity and ability to continue evolving while maintaining a quality of lyrics that rarely suffers from repetition even eight albums later.

To close the show, Q-Tip did three songs with Mos Def before he was joined by the rest of A Tribe Called Quest to finish out an excellent afternoon of hip-hop. Q-Tip initially seemed very agitated, angry almost that the crowd volume was not what he expected. He yelled “LOUDER” several times and was obviously frustrated. He of course performed “Vivrant Thing.” As for Tribe’s set, it was a throwback worthy of the concert, playing a host of fan favorites that had everyone dancing and rapping along. But why go through the setlist when I can simply show you?

A Tribe Called Quest Set List

A Tribe Called Quest Set List

So that was that, 2008’s Rock the Bells. With 2 more shows left, there’s still a chance for people to get out and see it, and if you don’t, don’t forget it when it comes around next year.


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