“I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit/Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets”
“Jihad is not a holy war, wheres that in the worship?/Murdering is not Islam!”
Intelligent hip-hop. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Remember when rappers rapped for...
We did it. We survived Made In America 2013. That may not sound like an accomplishment, but for two rookie festival-goers, it was a life or death weekend. Totally devoid of nourishment but inversely sweaty, Made In America (MIA) was a two-day standing room battle, but a worthwhile one for the music. Or really just for Beyoncé. Ignoring the separate stage with the EDM freak show acts, we shuffled back and forth between MIA’s “Rocky” and “Freedom” stages, taking in as many acts as possible without dying of a non-Molly induced heat-stroke. Here’s our notebook dump recap of Made In America 2013:
A$AP Rocky owes me a Supreme box logo tee, or something. Unless Public Enemy and/or 2 Chainz are your rap deities, Rocky was the biggest rapper on the Saturday bill. I saw him perform with A$AP Mob last year, and the pure chaos of the set made for an incredible show. This time, however, Rocky (performing on the “Rocky” stage), was 20 minutes late for his set, half-assed four songs (not completing any), and got yanked off so that the remaining 8 hours of the festival could stay on-time. He had a 45 minute set time and maybe performed for 15 minutes. What should’ve been a bright spot for hip-hop at MIA ended up being a massive disappointment. Sidebar: Where the fuck was A$AP Ferg? Trap Lord is indeed in stores, and he didn’t make it onto the biggest stage of the weekend. Smh.
YELLING! RT @4wrestling: @asvpxrocky You’re lucky I didn’t snatch that Supreme box tee off your frail ass frame today. MiA set was so poor.
Macklemore’s set was the best time to beat the lines and get chicken fingers. End of.
Chicken Fingers are the best. While everyone was getting their shit rocked by the heat, sweat, dirt, dehydration, and the general nastiness of an outdoor music festival, the food vendors were getting overrun like the Alamo out there. They literally couldn’t fry up enough chicken tenders and fries to meet the malnourished and intoxicated demand of every festival-goer. I threw elbows, got into an argument with a marine over whether or not it was “respectful” to wear a camo bucket hat, and waited a grand total of one hour for a $9 basket of oh-so delicious fried chicken tenders.
Kendrick Lamar’s set was dull. All of TDE had 45 minutes of total set time, but none of them performed together—a bizarre bit of organization. Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q preceded Kendrick, but each only did a few songs. Kendrick was backed with a live-band, which did nothing to improve the quality of the set. I don’t need an electric guitar to add anything to “Backseat Freestyle.” How all of Black Hippy could be at the same event, share the same set time, but not all do a group performance is beyond me. Fucking Macklemore had Schoolboy Q as his guest, and Kendrick didn’t. Fail.
Hit the jump to read on about Beyonce, Miguel, Calvin Harris, and more.
Last night, I attended the second leg of Jay-Z (still going with the hyphen) and Justin Timberlake’s “Legends of the Summer” NYC stop. It was my 7th time seeing a Jay-Z set live, and my 8th time seeing him live overall (he came out for Alicia Keys at MSG a few years back to go through “Empire State of Mind”) #humblebrag. My first Jay-Z show was his “Answer The Call” 9/11 benefit concert at MSG back in 2009. The energy in that building was something that I’ve longed for at a concert ever since. MSG is a special place for all events, but for Jay-Z concerts, it has a higher meaning. It’s the hometown kid in his hometown arena.
That night, everyone in that building felt, for lack of a better word, ready. It was like an old mob boss getting the gang back together for one last score (a movie reference slipped me here, but I’m sure that there have been hundreds of movies made based on this premise). Kanye, Rihanna, Diddy, Kid Cudi, John Mayer, Pharrell, Beyonce, and whoever else happened to be in the building that night hopped on stage. But most importantly, only hardcore Hov fans were there. Every word was spit right back in Jay’s face—no line was forgotten. The drop for “Public Service Announcement” that night remains the wildest shit I’ve seen and felt during a concert. It was raw, animalistic, un-cut energy, and above all, the crowd that night showed genuine passion for hip-hop music.
Since then, “Empire State of Mind,” Watch The Throne, the Brooklyn Nets, and Blue Ivy have happened, and with that, his fan base has shifted. He’s the most accessible rapper today (although Drake is quickly changing that), and with hip-hop and pop continuously blurring genre lines, Jay-Z’s music is no longer a taboo listen in the living rooms of Middle America. “Big Pimpin” Hov isn’t the Hov we all know now. Now, he’s the black adult who’s married to Beyonce, has a baby daughter, and is respected for his business moves. Corporatism was his way of infiltrating the hearts mainstream white America, and a few light-hearted jingles along the way helped too.
The first time I heard Asher Roth was my sophomore year in high school. I was in my friend’s basement, and because we were high school sophomores, we were playing Modern Warfare and ordering Domino’s, all while awkwardly texting girls using T9 Word and extra “lol”s to overcompensate for lack of game. Somebody put on “I Love College” during a 2v2 no radar Team Deathmatch, and that was that. I can’t remember whether I liked it or not, because in my mind, Call of Duty was more important than Asher Roth. Perhaps my indifference to the song and lack of a memory is all that’s needed to be said.
For most hip-hop fans, their memory of Roth starts and ends at that “I Love College.” He had a great white-boy party anthem, got compared to Eminem, was on the cover of XXL, and that’s it. Asleep in the Bread Aisle ended up being forgettable, and would be his first and only album.
But where the career of Asher Roth, the next Great White Hope ended, the career of Asher Roth, Jazzy Cool Hipster, begins. To provide some visual perspective, this is Asher Roth in 2009:
And this is Roth in 2012:
He’s no longer a preppy, clean-cut, State College boy who lives for the frat party. He’s a laid-back hipster who looks like the kind of guy who’d spend a whole apartment party in Williamsburg debating over which Radiohead album is the best.
I met Asher Roth on Tuesday night before his headlining show at Gramercy Theatre in New York, and to his credit, he’s a real soulful dude who’s way too cool to waste time debating over Radiohead, because we all know that their best album is Kid A. Asher’s much more polite and down to earth than any of the BK Hipsters I’ve come across in my life too. After I butted into a conversation between him and Jesse Marco, he immediately introduced himself to me and everyone around me by saying, “Hi, I’m Asher. Nice to meet you.”
During his set, I was exposed to the talent that is Asher Roth for the first time. He was backed by a live band, didn’t rap or sing over dubbed background tracks, and proved to be a real showman. Unlike many rappers I’ve seen live, he didn’t feel too cool to bring fans up on stage or go into the crowd to rap. Every die-hard who was in the front row of the venue was able to get a piece of him.
He brought two fans up on stage to prove their Roth knowledge and rap along with him, and even had a dozen girls from the crowd come up to dance. It wasn’t any skin off his back to give these kids the night of their lives by involving them with the show, although it kind of backfired. All these fans did was pull out their iPhones and take selfies with Asher on stage instead of actually enjoying the moment. Girls were up there double-fisting digital cameras and iPhones, desperately snapping future profile pictures. Microblogging at it’s tragic worst. By time the girls were set to leave, Asher couldn’t help but snap, “You guys took so many fucking pictures, get off the stage.” It was the only quip of the night in an otherwise heartful set.
(This was one of my favorite moments in live music history.)
I came to the show without the intention of even staying for his performance (I went for Jesse Marco and nearly bounced after his opening DJ set), but I left as a true believer in Asher Roth and his music. But why has it taken this long for me to realize that Asher Roth is incredibly talented? His last two mixtapes were well received around the hip-hop blogosphere, but I didn’t really bother with them. But why? Why didn’t I care? There’s nothing to not like about the guy. He makes good hip-hop, and has such an everyman personality and style—he looks more like an Urban Outfitters discount bin shopper than a rapper-type.
I remember in June 2010, I was at Best Buy in Union Square waiting for Drake’s album signing, and someone was handing out copies of Roth’s latest mixtape, Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry. I didn’t take a copy, because I thought that Asher Roth was a farce. To me, getting a CD copy of that mixtape was no worse than having one of those struggle rappers outside of Penn Station push you their CD and then demand money after you take it.
Puzzled as to why I’ve passively dismissed Roth’s music for the past few years, I pressed my roommate for answers the morning after the show. He came up with a characterization for Roth that defines how most people probably still feel: “‘I Love College’ is so lame. I’m done with him.” In the minds of people who follow popular rap, Roth is a one-hit wonder. People still think that he’s a joke because of that song. The song is catchy, yes, but is it a model for sustainability in hip-hop? No. A white rapper in 2008 was never going to last based on the strength of what we now know as frat rap.
To be fair, it’s hard to take someone seriously when they rap, “I am champ-ion, at beer pong, Hakeem Olaju-won, Allen Iver-son,” in their first big song. That was the public’s introduction to Asher Roth, and it was one that was taken lightly. That doesn’t bode well for someone who’s a serious artist.
The incessant Eminem comparisons back in 2008 didn’t help either. At no point in his career has Asher Roth ever been like Eminem, but because he’s a white rapper, labels—and subsequently fans—demanded Eminem out of Asher Roth. If he debuted with a project in the same vein as Pabst & Jazz, he’d be making much more noise than he is now, but because he’s “Asher Roth, ‘I Love College’ Rapper,” his current, more serious music isn’t given a chance.
If “I Love College” debuted today, it’d probably have an even bigger impact than it did in 2009, because Roth would be breaking out in a world where Mac Miller, Yelawolf, Macklemore, and Machine Gun Kelly all matter, and where frat rap is accepted in some circles—a world that Asher Roth helped create by taking the initial fall. He was before his time with that single. Without Roth’s career starting and stalling, those white rappers can’t come up without backlash based on race. After Asher Roth had his moment, we all realized that we should stop comparing every white rapper to Eminem, and to let those artists be their own artist. It might be a stretch to call him “2012 White Rap’s Martyr,” but it’s not all that far from the truth.
Asher Roth isn’t the same rapper that we were all introduced to in 2008. He’s not a rapper who’s crafting crossover hits, and you certainly won’t find the likes of Cee Lo Green or Keri Hilson (two big collaborators on Asleep in the Bread Aisle), on any future Asher Roth LPs. Before he closed his set last night, he gave a few words of advice to any aspiring artists in the crowd: “Make music with your heart, not with your mind. It’s not all about the fame and money—it’s not worth it.”
At age 27, Asher Roth is as free as he’s ever been as an artist, and he’s making the best music of his career because of it. It’s not often that a once famous rapper morphs into a slept-on talent. It’s time to wake up, and take him seriously—he’s not in the bread aisle anymore.
This past weekend, I got to attend the Much Music Video Awards. Much Music is run by Fuse TV, which is basically the MTV of Canada. JD from JDotSHOTS actually won a contest for an all-expenses paid trip to the awards, and took me with him. I’m forever in debt to him and Fuse TV.
I expected the MMVA’s to be exactly like how an American music award show would go. It’d be in a theatre, everyone would be dressed well, and it’d be an adult crowd. The MMVA’s couldn’t have been more different. They were outside, right in the middle of downtown Toronto. Much Music shut down an entire block and constructed two huge outdoor stages right in the narrow streets. Before the show, people flooded the streets to take advantage of all the free promotions from sponsors and to experience the carnival-like atmosphere. The dress-code was Hollister-fresh, and there weren’t many adults around.
Before the show, JD and I got wristbands from Much Music and were escorted into the pit next to the stage. It soon became clear that we weren’t going to get the VIP treatment we had expected. We were surrounded by 8,000 screaming little girls, all of whom had won access through local radio stations. The “award show” wasn’t an award show in the traditional sense—it was more like a choppy concert that had a few trophies given away.
LMFAO hosted the event, and they were frankly disgusting. I’m not a fan of their music, and I’m saddened that they get paid to act like corny idiots. It’s also kind of weird that RedFoo, the older member of LMFAO, is actually 31 and the Uncle of SkyBlu, the second half of the group. What’s a 31 year old man doing running around half naked and partying with teeny-boppers? “Teeny-bopper” was perhaps the best way to describe the target audience for the MMVAs. I wasn’t familiar with any of the TV actors who presented awards, but the little girls around me sure were.
Carly Rae Jepsen was the biggest winner of the night, taking home 3 awards. They brought her out to present another 3-4 times, as if to just get her on camera as much as possible. Props to Scooter Braun for single-handedly orchestrating the entire night behind-the-scenes. He’s Carly Rae’s manager and the long-time manager of Justin Bieber, who trumped Katy Perry for the show’s closing performance. I can imagine Much Music asking Scooter for Bieber to perform, but Scooter asking for Carly Rae to be pushed into the spotlight as much as possible as a prerequisite for a Bieber performance. Scooter Braun won the MMVAs.
But yeah, I was going crazy for Justin Bieber. I’ve become a fan the past couple months, because his music is undeniable. During Katy Perry’s set, we were given light-up diamond rings to wave, which was really cute. The props backfired during Bieber’s set, as some people were firing the rings at him. He still had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Girls (and a few guys) were crying all around me, and the shrieking never stopped. His performance was legitimately the pinnacle of their lives. He made me a Belieber that night.
His new album, Believe, came out today, and aside from some of the over-the-top dance tracks, it’s pretty solid. We need to come to realize that this is a world in which Justin Bieber can create great music for adults, and we need to learn to be okay with that. The kid is only a year younger than me, and he could very well end up being my generation’s pop icon. Let’s start getting used to it.
Last week, our friend PHZ-Sicks took the stage at SOB’s in NYC in a showcase event. He was kind enough to send a set of tickets over to me, so I grabbed my camera and took some shots. I only stayed until his set, but I can assure you that he was MUCH better than all of the lame acts at this showcase. He killed his short set. The guy has a ton of talent, so please follow him on Twitter here, and download his latest mixtape, The Laws of PHZ-Sicks here.
Click to enlarge all photos taken by Brook Bobbins.
I don’t do many “CHECK THEM OUT” posts. My last one was on Tiara Thomas in August 2010. It’s probably because I’m usually not all that impressed by unknown Indie/smaller/opening type acts I see at concerts. But these “Bad Rabbits” are different…
Last Friday, going off a tip from my roommate, I attended a free Bad Rabbits concert at the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square, NYC. The Bad Rabbits are a band that I’ve been amazed by ever since my roommate introduced me to their EP, Stick Up Kids, a few months ago.
Frankly, I don’t listen to as many bands as I should. I’ve let myself become so narrow minded in taste that I haven’t opened up to any of the hundreds of Indie bands making noise across NYC. The Bad Rabbits, however, are band of outsiders with a uniting, but alien sound. They’ve described themselves as “R&B/Soul/Pop,” boasting a “unique hybrid sound that has garnered attention from hip hop heads, hipsters and hardcore loyalists alike.” Well I’m a hip-hop head, my roommate is a hardcore loyalist, and we both go to NYU, so we’re hipsters by default. What’s not to like?
The Bad Rabbits have a universal sound that blends so many genres together. They’re kind of like a more soul/funk influenced version of Maroon 5, but more carefree and varied. Their music features big band horns, spiraling piano chords, jumpy bass lines and funky guitar riffs; Dua Boakye, their lead singer, doesn’t have the same voice as Adam Levine, but the two are similar in that their voices are so different compared to what’s out there right now. Boakye has the ability to let off some John Legend soul belts or get up the scale and do justice to a Michael Jackson or The-Dream cover. I’ve never heard anything like it.
It’s the Bad Rabbits’ youthful rebelliousness which makes them so entertaining to begin with. The concert was played in a swanky room overlooking the stunning lights of Times Square. While the band was grateful (repeated “thank you”s were in order for “putting us up in some swagged out rooms”), they still played with the same IDGAF-let’s-party resolve that’s been so present at all of their live shows. They combine their unruly stage presence with a performance confidence that makes you think that you’re watching more than an unsigned Indie band in a small room. They play like they’re already famous, which speaks to their refined sound and swagger.
Every member of the Bad Rabbits played with high-energy from start to finish. There were no statues on stage. Boakye even went into the crowd multiple times for some intense crowd interaction and participation.
Despite repeated pleas from the band to keep everything civil (the hotel was really, really, really nice), all hell broke loose during their final song. A friend of the band started a mosh-pit in my section, and by time it was over, I was on the ground next to the remains of a table. Yup, we snapped a table in half. Now THERE was the IDGAF-let’s-party attitude that helps fuel Bad Rabbits shows. There it was, quite literally, staring me in the eyes, splinters and all.
I’ll definitely be on the look out for all of their future projects. The Bad Rabbits have a brilliant, organic sound that’s fit for crossover success. They’ll have many natural hits that any music lover can vibe, cry and party to. They’re an act to look out for in 2012.
Download their FREE EP here and check out some of their YouTube videos below. More great concert photos over at Who Shot Ya?
Michael Jackson cover:
And of course, make the social media rounds and hit them on Facebook and Twitter.
I attended both an IZOD Center and MSG date on the Watch The Throne Tour. Pictures taken on my iPhone are from both concerts, but this is written from the perspective of the MSG show.
Picture a classic street-corner cypher. Kids trading exuberant, boastful verses just to pass the time. To assert playground dominance for the day, until the newest batch of rhymes are cooked up the next afternoon. Take the foundation of that basic cypher, and surround it by two rising stages, lasers, fireballs, huge screens and tens of thousands of people, and you’ve got the Watch The Throne Tour. For all of the grandeur expected from Jay-Z and Kanye West, now known as “The Throne,” their concerts are based on a simple, back-on-the-block cypher.
They began the show with the much-maligned single “H.A.M.” For all of the criticism that song has received, it’s obvious that the operatic Lex Luger production was selected with stadiums in mind. As the instrumental roared, Kanye and Jay-Z rapped to each other on opposite ends of the arena, standing on different stages. As the song ended, each stage rose 40 feet off the ground. Images of angels appeared on the sides of the stages, and a single beam of light shined on both Kanye and Jay-Z, symbolizing their rise to God-like beings in the stratosphere of music and popular culture.
Kanye was quick to assert his own presence. Sporting a shirt with his own face on it, a leather kilt, leather pants and unreleased Air Yeezy 2s, he received strange stares and plenty of pauses from the crowd. With a barrage of “HANH?”s and declaring “Y’ALL WELCOME!”—as if everyone at Madison Square Garden should’ve thanked The Throne for even appearing—Kanye’s playful ignorance was in abundance.
Credit: Press Office/AP
Throughout the night, Kanye and Jay-Z traded the stage, and joined forces for their collaborative hits. As they kept trading solo sets, it became clear that the Madison Square Garden crowd was in the building for Jay-Z—Kanye was his youthful sidekick. When the Just Blaze produced “U Don’t Know” dropped, fireballs rose from the stage, and images of nuclear mushroom clouds appeared on the screens. Jay-Z mesmerized the crowd with this bombastic, chaotic hit, starting the “Roc Bow.” As Mike Dean plunged the building into an inferno with a guitar solo, all of Madison Square Garden threw up their Roc diamonds, and bounced in unison with Jay-Z—their pastor at a rebellious precession of hip-hop.
Through “New Day,” The Throne created a classic old-school cypher, as Jay-Z appealed to the crowd, “We’re gonna take it back to the stoop, if it’s okay tonight.” The two sat on the stage and performed the most personal track off Watch The Throne; Kanye rapped to his unborn son, and Jay-Z rapped to the life growing inside of Beyoncé’s belly.
As “New Day” wrapped up, Kanye exited the stage, and Jay-Z ran through “Hard Knock Life,” “Izzo,” and “Empire State Of Mind.” The lights quickly dimmed, and Kanye appeared on the opposite stage, enveloped in a devilish red light. He performed his emotional, auto-tuned portion of the show. In the past, his auto-tuned set had been an awkward headache for everyone, but Kanye has refined the performance of songs such as “Runaway” and “Heartless.” He comfortably harmonized with the songs, letting his recorded vocals do the work. For the most part, he tastefully picked his spots to extend his singing range. At certain points, however, it still seemed as if the only person enjoying himself was Kanye. The MSG crowd had little patience for Kanye’s obvious confessions about Amber Rose:”I thought you’d always be mine. If I said I didn’t love you I’d be lying.”
Kanye brought MSG back to life by performing “Stronger,” but many of the Jay-Z faithful remained seated (Overheard: “I guess Kanye is Jay’s new Memphis Bleek”). As Kanye’s stage descended, Jay-Z appeared on the opposite, rising stage. “On To the Next One” dropped, and everyone stood at Hov’s attention. Shortly thereafter, The Throne transitioned into a comical storyline consisting of “Big Pimpin,” “Gold Digger” and “99 Problems,” with Jay-Z using his songs to consult Kanye on his girl problems.
To restore calmness to MSG, they used “Lift Off.” Jay-Z slowly paced the stage, telling the crowd that they were going to “give you all a breath before we take off.” “N*ggas In Paris” then dropped, shaking MSG to it’s foundation. People openly danced up and down the aisles, and Kanye shouted, “Remember this moment for the rest of your life! You are now watching The Throne!” The song blew the top off the arena, not once, but three times, as they kept running it back. No song that Jay-Z or Kanye performed got the same wild response as “N*ggas In Paris.” Some people in the floor seats even started throwing up wads of dollar bills, making it rain in MSG.
After finishing the song for the second time, the two departed the stage, but shortly came back on for what would be a disorganized, puzzling encore. “N*ggas In Paris” played again, and “Encore” naturally came after. But in between songs, Kanye ran over to the side of the stage to point someone out in the crowd and tell a security guard something. He came back over to the guard after performing “Get Em High,” but didn’t seem pleased with what the guard had told him. Kanye went into the crowd, only to come back up a minute later, visibly upset. While Kanye was dealing with some unknown problem down below, Jay-Z was left on stage, looking awkward for perhaps the first time in his performance career. He rapped a cappella the first verse to “Dead Presidents” to cover for Kanye, but MSG was still left at a painful standstill—during the encore of all times. Kanye’s antics ruined The Throne’s MSG encore—a shame for the New York City crowd.
As a whole, the performance styles of Kanye and Jay-Z dovetailed nicely. Kanye had his usual “little brother” energy, while Jay-Z glided across the stage with his usual swagger. Visually, the show looked like Kanye set. Rising stages, lasers, fireballs, and a National Geographic-esque reel of animals all embodied Kanye’s strange creativity. It’s clear that Kanye has new artistic influences—the platoon of ballerinas and towering facades of Greco-Roman art of past Kanye shows was replaced by rock n’ roll modernism. (Virgil Abloh, Kanye’s Creative Director, put the artistic vision of the tour well: “Fuck art. I just like graphics”). There’s no way Jay-Z alone could ever envision or pull off these theatrics.
Despite the assistance from the lighting and pyrotechnic crew, The Throne provided all the major thrills on their own. They have yet to bring out a single guest on stage. One would assume that a cavalcade of hip-hop superstars would’ve been brought out for the MSG shows, as Kanye and Jay-Z have always done for their New York City concerts. Aside from Frank Ocean, Watch The Throne is completely devoid of features, and it seems as if The Throne wants to keep that theme in place throughout their tenure at the top.
The MSG leg of the tour was a homecoming for Jay-Z, and a coming out party for Kanye: he proved himself to be Jay-Z’s equal on stage, despite the fickleness of the Hova-centric crowd. They matched each other hit-for-hit, moment for moment. Each song they performed came out perfectly live. It’s obvious that since Kanye’s Graduation (2008), each artist has been making stadium-status music. Each instrumental layer, hook and verse has been created with an arena performance in mind—no other hip-hop artists have the same stadium-shaking catalog as The Throne. As the two walked off stage for the last time near midnight, they wished MSG “peace and love,” and looked at themselves on the screen, literally watching The Throne.
We attended the IZOD Center leg of the Watch The Throne Tour last night. Instead of doing a formal review, we decided to share our thoughts through conversation. Justin will be attending their Madison Square Garden show on Tuesday, so expect a formal review of the two shows then. But for now, here’s our experience with The Throne.
I’ve seen J. Cole live maybe half a dozen times by now, and have been to four of his headlining shows. He usually opens with “Welcome”—an upbeat song (and one of my personal favorites) which leads off his second mixtape, The Warm Up. But all of those shows happened before J. Cole had an album date, or even a first single. With a world tour lined up and Cole World: The Sideline Story ready to finally hit stores tomorrow (although copies were available for purchase at the show), Cole lead off the night with a different track—a track that’s not even his. His legendary verse on G.O.O.D Music’s “Looking For Trouble” kicked the night off, with the first line being “Cole World make way for the chosen one/What you now hear is putting fear in all the older ones.” Given where Cole is at right now in his career, it’s an appropriate bar to start the night off with. He’s grown out of performing old mixtape tracks. It’s all about albums now. Cole World is the creation of rap’s new messiah, and last night was a celebration of what’s to come the next decade.
J. Cole is one of the most intense and energetic live performers around, but last night, he was a little more subdued. He suffered a sprained ankle two weeks ago, and performed last night in a giant walking boot. His movements were limited by his own standards, which are still more lively than many rappers. At one point, he got so into a track that he carelessly started running around the stage, and almost tripped and fell into a piano. His body had slowed down thanks to the walking boot, but his performance mentality sure didn’t.
To make up for his slowed walking boot movements, J. Cole injected more physicality into the mic. His rough voice boomed throughout the Roseland Ballroom, giving him extraordinary command of the venue and the crowd. I’ve discussed his crazy eyes in previous J. Cole show recaps, but they’re worth noting again. When he raps, he looks demonized. He’s so focused and locked into his performance—lock eyes with him while he’s rapping and it’ll feel like something just pierced your soul. There’s so much passion and pain in those eyes. Not many rappers can dominate a stage like J. Cole can.
He ran through a nice mixture of old mixtape cuts and new album songs. “In The Morning” got a great response, as did the energetic “Higher.” The live performance of “Work Out” totally justifies it’s bare existence. It’s a fun, sing-a-long track that Cole really gets into. Hearing “Mr. Nice Watch” on huge speakers for the first time made my face scrunch-up, while the premiere of “Nobody’s Perfect” (the best song on Cole World in my mind), had the whole crowd slowly rocking side-to-side.
J. Cole was also quick to remind everyone of his musical talents. He made it a point to pat himself on the back for producing most of Cole World, and did something that I’ve never seen a rapper do live before: play an instrument and rap at the same time. He played a stripped down version of “Lights Please” on the piano while running through the track—an impressive performance that showcased his talents. He’s faced so much criticism in 2011, causing people forget to acknowledge the incredible talent that is J. Cole.
It often seems like the biggest figure who refuses to acknowledge J. Cole’s talent is his boss and faux-mentor, Jay-Z. Their relationship will always be up for interpretation and discussion. Jay was in attendance tonight, and was briefly spotted in the balcony. Once he was spotted, he gave a short Pope wave to the mortals below and departed backstage. He didn’t make an appearance on-stage, which naturally adds fuel to the fire. Jay-Z will come out for Young Jeezy at the Highline Ballroom but won’t lend a hand during his protégé’s big New York City concert? Okay. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
Jay-Z vs. J. Cole gossip aside—not many rappers can do what J. Cole does in the studio, on the mic and on the stage. I look forward to seeing him again in October when he makes the NYC stop on the “Cole World Tour.” Be sure to pick up Cole World: The Sideline Story tomorrow. I’ll be attending his in-store signing at J&R!
Oh and shout out to J. Cole for acknowledging my LVRS snapback at the end of the show. Swag. Also it was good catching up with Voli and Vic after the show. Good talks guys. JD was a fashionably late balcony baller once again.
About a month ago, myself, Stefan, and BB friend Nick Brown headed over to the Bowery Poetry Club to see Voli and Elite perform live. This was one of the first times Voli and Elite have performed, and the first time they’ve headlined a show together. The venue was small, and so was the crowd. For everyone who took the time out to catch these two amazing up-and-coming artists, it was like a private concert. I’ve been saying for almost a year now that Voli is the most mature and advanced hip-hop artist coming up right now. Considering that he’s only got one mixtape sampler out and a handful of singles, his work is leaps and bounds ahead of rappers with the similar sized discographies. This was only this third live performance ever, and the quality of it definitely paralleled his recorded work. His manager Vic did a fine job DJing the entire show, and even sprinkled in vocal effects to match his recorded music. Voli performed with terrific energy, and his imposing size carried over to a heavy stage presence. Eye-contact with the crowd and superb intensity made for a lively set.
Elite has a smaller discography (as a rapper) than Voli, so he performed cuts off his upcoming mixtape. Elite’s flow and smooth delivery have always impressed me. He performed with a little less bravado than Voli, but it was his first live performance (to my knowledge). Once Elite gets into his zone onstage, he’s a true force. Once again, good eye-contact made for a great set, but his ability to navigate from more emotional songs to some real heaters took the night to another level.
Check out some footage of Voli x Elite performing:
After the show, Voli and Elite chopped it up with us. We questioned them on the their rap family, made up of Voli, Elite, J. Cole and Omen. They also discussed learning from J. Cole’s industry experiences/hardships, Cole’s “Return of Simba” record (which Elite co-produced), and their own projects. Watch the interview below:
Be sure to check out Elite’s website to download his music, and follow him on Twitter. Click here to download all of Voli’s work, and visit his Twitter page. Voli will have a new mixtape dropping sooner than you think, and Elite will be releasing Awaken, a project that he’s been working on for two years now, on 11/11/11.
Special thanks to Vic, Voli and Elite. Also thanks to Nick Brown from Syracuse University/Prime Wizard Productions for all the great shots and editing. But A HUGE thank you to my little brother Adam, who edited 95% of the videos and visuals.