A little belated: Happy Veterans Day for those serving our country. Couldn't be who I am doing the things I do with out those protecting us!
On to the next order of business, last night was the performance of two hip hop veterans. Nas and Lauryn Hill tore it up in Chicago.
What is a music veteran?
A veteran is someone who has mad iconic hit that are STILL relevant today and manage to continue with success, evolving their craft, and consistently setting the bar higher with out letting the game change them selves. Their talents are timeless and their songs are classics.
In a crowd of older fans, the first half of Nas’ set was everything I had imagined a hip hop concert from the 90s would be. (My older brothers would be so proud of me.) An 80s baby, I dream of what concert shows were like as a kid and I got to experience Nas back in college at UIUC, but this time it was different. He kept his backdrop simple, played all the favorite, super high energy.. ya de ya daaa… he forgot some of his older lyrics here and there… The stage filled the room with blinding, I kid you not, red and blue lights worse than four cop cars chasing after you. Then shit got real. After playing his typical repertoire, songs that he’s been singing for 15 years, he slowed it down for a very intimate song about his ex. You could see the emotion coming out of him as he poured every emotion out on stage. Bringing us to the current hits, Nas payed tribute to his lost sister, Amy Winehouse with a cheesy toast over actual cherry wine. It was endearing.
The hip-hop institution left off with “Hip Hop is Dead.” Is it? Shoot, then we’re um… somewhere else.
Then, the longest set change in my life occurred. After Nas finished, supposedly, the set was facing some difficulties, but it hardly seemed believable. Just then as the crowd started to boo, a raw and ethereal voice just started coming for the mic. As if she had heard the booing from her dressing room and decided she would just start singing from there. Her booming voice was just so perfect… some… including me… thought it was a pre-recorded track that the DJ had put on to soothe the crowd after the booing. Then we heard a little break in the song, “Chicago are you starting beef with me? You think this is a recording?” from the incredible Ms Lauryn Hill.
She took a crowd of 3500+ booing fans to a place that seemed like the back of a blues club with only 10 people around. She touched each and everyone one of us. She won us over within one verse! Starting out with an extra reggaeton version “Killing Me Softly” to full out rapping all the parts in iconic Fugee verses, there is no one in comparison to her. There seemed to be no set list, no previous rehearsal, but only a team of very eager back musicians. She conducted her own music. Cuing the exact amount of drums to directing guitar solos, we watched her creative juices flow. She performed a new song, “Black Rage” to the tune of “My Favorite Things” and then broke down the lyrics like we were watching slam poetry. She had a sudden urge to play a song and called for a stagehand to bring her guitar.
Lauryn Hill practiced on stage right before our eyes on her guitar and teaching her backup singers the chorus. Ms Lauryn, mother of SIX, busted out the mommy fingers on her back up singers! Everything was unscripted and just bared all of her talents. Coming back to Killing Me Softly, cause one time just isn't enough, she took the classic route and finished off with a song that helped me proclaimed my independence as a teen, "Do Wop."
She is not a performer that just goes home after a well-rehearsed show and scripted show, but instead she continues to live music on and off the stage. You must be extremely patient and just let her creativity flow. We just got to watch it for 2.5 hours… very long... but very worth it.
Lauryn Hill has been at the center of a lot of controversy this year. First there was the whole tax evasion situation and more recently her former Fugee, one time Haiti presidential candidate, who is 43, but apparently looks and feels 26, Wyclef Jean, called her out for supposedly lying to him about being the father of her first son Zion and accused her of some down low creeping.
The eight-time Grammy winner, known for her incredible singing and masterful rap skills, and equally eclectic personality, steered clear of responding directly to Jean. Instead she opted to address the situation on stage at one of her stops for the Nas: Life Is Good tour. Here’s what she had to say:
"When you are on the other side of liberation, just make sure you are not late. Be careful how you judge, there is a lot of deception out there. A lot of misunderstanding out there. A lot of miscommunication out there. A lot of false information out there. And notice, out of all the people who talk talk talk, who’s the silent one. There’s a lot of chat, but me…. And you know why? Let me tell you why I don’t chat back. Because I know that my brothers and my sisters are often times pawns in a bigger scheme so when they, under pressure, attack me, I love them still. It’s called the high road. Try taking it sometimes. I’m not going to play my hand like the suppressive system would have me play my hand. Because I know [about] the oppression that took place in Haiti, and Jamaica, and America, and Africa and Europe. So just be patient. The truth always surfaces and especially, all you black folks out there who have had black mothers who carried you through thick and thin, when the system wanted to call them crazy, just remember that… You know I know I’m not crazy, that’s why I can use the word so freely. Crazy like a fox? Ahead of the curve. People don’t like people that’s ahead of the curve but unfortunately that’s not my problem."
- Lauryn Hill
She hasn’t changed. And I love her for it. Check her out with Nas Wednesday at the Congress Theater.
Nas speaks on seeing MC Shan in concert and where he pulls his lyrics from
There are few moments in everyone’s life in which they realize their passion, and discover what truly moves them. May that be engulfing intricate lines and patterns with color and watching art come to life, or perhaps reciting their first stanza and discovering the power, pleasure, and pain words can hold. For Nasir Jones it was seeing his first concert that cemented his love for hip-hop, ultimately driving the Queensbridge native to pursue a career in rap.
In a recent mini documentary series entitled BECOMING, with director Jamie Patricof via Soul Culture, Nas talked about where he pulls his raps from, seeing MC Shan at his first concert, and hearing himself for the first time on the radio.
"My style is jazz. My style is raw graffiti on the wall. My style is the dope fiend nodding off in the corner. My style is the story of that guy’s life because that guy was my neighbor. My style is my best friend when I'm a kid his mother overdosing and him handling it like a man. Those things will go ignored if I don't say anything about them." Nas talks in great detail about where he pulls his lyrical stories from, Queensbridge, the neighborhood that birth and raised him. But it may have been a performance by hip-hop legend MC Shan in his neighborhood that ultimately drove Nas to pick of the pen an pad and approach the mic.
"Maybe the first Hip Hop show that I went to was in Queensbridge Park," he explained. "I was young, and my brother was young, and it eventually got shot up. But before the mayhem, earlier that evening, MC Shan performed. When Shan touched the stage, it was serious. I never heard anything like that in my life. We had great aspirations to get into something that would change our lives. I knew that (Hip Hop) was the life for me."
Nas also recollected on the making of his first major debut LP Illmatic. No artist has ever been so closely tied to their debut LP than Nas. Whenever Nas hits the stage fans lust for just one song……or bar for that matter from his trascending classic. Nas explained that during the 90’S era of hip-hop the artist album was meant to refelct the hardships, life, and struggles of the man behind the mic; where as today albums tend to explore the rich and lush lifestlyes many artist live.
"My era was the era of breaking it all down to what's the real," he recalled. "It wasn’t about the star, it was about the man. They say this album changed hip-hop because it was the first hip-hop album with multiple big producers – it hadn’t been done. Those four Pete Rock, Large Professor, DJ Premier and Q-Tip were the greatest – and are the greatest."
The first track of Nas’s that hit the airwaves was Live at the BBQ recorded with Main Source. Nas recalled the feeling he got the first time he heard the record on the airwaves and the emotions that followed.
“When I first heard Live at the BBQ on the radio I was just walking through my neighborhood I saw a bunch of older guy, it was late night. As I’m walking by I hear the song. I’m like wow, I’m telling some of the guys that’s me, but you know their older, faded and halfway listening to me–but it didn’t matter I heard me”.
Nas continued to explain the feeling as he walked back to his neighborhood, “That walk back to my block I was sort of in a daze like its happening. I’m in rap now; I’m a part of this rap thing. That was my dream just that. I’m like this is perfect. The door has opened for me to have a chance to be heard, and I will be a name known in this great thing called rap. My goal was to be the best, to change the game”.
Ten studio albums later its fairly safe to say the kid traveling home ecstatic after hearing himself for the first time has blossomed into the man…..Nas….a legend in the hip-hop world and a transcender of rap music as a whole.
Its been over a year since her death and I still long for her voice. Nas recently released "Cherry Wine" featuring the late Amy Winehouse. Shouts out to Sgt. Tibs for already posting it, but I felt like the video needs some extra attention.
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Sharing the same birthday, Nas and Amy Winehouse have a very unique chemistry both personally and musically.
Amy sample's Nas's "Made You Look" to make her own song "In my Bed."
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Nas reminisces as he falls in love with the light projection of the sensual songstress.
The sexually charged beat carries over the late songstress' voice to make your heart hang heavy. We miss you Amy.