Thanks to the magic of the internet, we no longer have to attend any of the major music festivals to see and hear what went down. These past couple months I was there for LCD Soundsystem’s epic four-hour farewell show, I was there for Coachella, and I was there this past weekend for Hot 97’s Summer Jam. By “there”, I, of course, mean sitting in front of my laptop with Twitter open clowning these shows along with the rest of youse. The Summer Jam debacle (call it what it mostly was) some of modern rap’s worst tendencies to light.
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Those of you that watched the Summer Jam performances last week got to sit down and take in a series of big ticket rap live acts without the exasperating heat, the slow, bloating inebriation brought on by a series of eight dollar draft brews, and the communal experience of standing amid the hot, sweaty masses as your favorite artists serenade you from a few feet away. Less these redeeming (or else, intoxicating) qualities, we at home got the embarrassing truth. A lot of rappers’ live shows aren’t up to snuff. Summer Jam got me thinking back on all of the rap shows I’ve attended in recent memory and the things that occurred that made me mad I came out. Rappers, singers, whatever-the-fuck-it-is-that-you-do-ers, please cease and desist committing the following onstage atrocities:
Chances are we would’ve killed to see every song performed in its entirety. Why refuse to allow the crowd the satisfaction, the release, the dignity, of performing the whole song? Instead, your DJ drops the Funk Flex bomb, and you move on to the next round of psychological tickle torture. What’s more, you perform verses from songs featuring other artists, and in doing so, dangle the possibility of a guest appearance that you know for a fact isn’t going to happen. Why do you do this? If you don’t have the co-star(s) of the track in attendance, don’t have us looking off stage right and stage left in vain. If Ghost and Meth aren’t backstage, don’t do “Ice Cream”. You know Jay and Beanie aren’t in town tonight, and even if they are, they aren’t speaking. Don’t drop “What We Do”. Skip the track. If you have an abbreviated set time, go with an abbreviated setlist. I’d rather hear all of five songs than some of 15. Do what you can and leave the rest for next time.
I know rappers cherish crowd participation in a live setting. But realize when you’re pointing the mic at the crowd just a little too much that the audience knows a crutch when they see one. If you’re relying on the crowd, your hype man, partner in rhyme, etc to finish lines, or if you’re dropping words every other line just to catch your breath, you got some work to do. I understand that not everyone was blessed with Rakim-like poise and control. But know that if you sound like a latter day Marlon Brando doing jumping jacks during Thanksgiving dinner on the mic, I’m not paying money to see your show.
Webster dictionary defines “microphone” as “an instrument whereby sound waves are caused to generate or modulate an electric current usually for the purpose of transmitting or recording sound”. If you plug one into an amplifier, it makes your voice louder. The fuck do they stay screaming for? It sounds like hell. Please stop doing it. This is half the reason they can’t spit their whole verse. A lot of MCs think that their job in a live setting is just to bounce energy off the audience. Surely that is a part of the experience, but you got famous rapping. We know who you are because we heard you rap. We paid money to see you rap. It would be great if we could understand what you were saying while you did it.
It’s common sense that whoever sang the syrupy hook for the hit single won’t be in attendance at every single show to perform it (unless you’re Kanye, and you make Def Jam pay to keep Kid Cudi flying in a holding pattern above whatever city your show is in just in case you need to do “All of the Lights” or “Welcome to Heartbreak” or freakin “Erase Me”). Naturally, that stops no one from performing the song. Perish the thought of hiring some kind of back up singer. I know some MCs catch the spirit up there and get to thinking they’re invincible, but heed my words: If you didn’t sing the hook, and you can’t sing the hook, you shouldn’t sing the hook. Thank you.
Last, but certainly not least, we’ve got the bane of the live hip-hop experience. We’ve got the MC who rhymes over his own vocal track. I don’t know where to begin with this one. Should I start with how unprofessional it is that nobody in their camp delivered instrumentals of their own joints to the DJ at the venue for the performance? Or how the polished studio track highlights each and every flaw in their live rendition, essentially mocking them in real time? Or how blissfully unaware of either aspect that the average rapper seems to be? It has got to stop.
It’s worth mentioning as an addendum that when I caught Odd Future’s first New York City live show last November they were in breach of pretty much all of the crimes I listed above. Tyler’s asthma was acting up, and he sounded like death. They were doing joints off Domo Genesis’s Rolling Papers even though Domo was clear across the country. Fucking Frank Ocean’s mic was off when he sang the hook to Mellowhype’s “Hell”. Syd was obviously just pressing play on mp3s. When the original setlist was done with time to spare, and they started fielding requests, she didn’t even have all the songs people were asking for. And yet that group held the audience, myself included, in the palm of its hand. See, as important as being an adept performer is having a captivating stage presence. It keeps things interesting. It’s too bad a lot of hip-hop artists seem all too happy to coast on personality and ambiance to get through the show.
What about you? Yeah, you. Ever been to a hip-hop show and came home feeling like you would have been better served to just listen to the album? I know I’m not the only one.