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Brother Ali, Ghostface Killah, Rakim w/ Rhythm Roots All-Stars @ HOB, 10/29
As a life long hip hop fan who's friends are mostly casual hip hop fans, at best, I am constantly being told that a live show that features an emcee rapping over the record is hardly entertaining. To some extent I would agree. On one hand I won't pass up the opportunity to see someone who's lyrics I feel even if they are simply rhyming alongside a DJ who is playing their record, but I do believe that live music is at it's best by far when there are instruments to be played. The bright minds of Flow.TVand Dodge had a master plan, bring both worlds together with theHip Hop Live Tour, three great emcees acompanied by an incredible live band, The Rhythm Roots All-Stars.
Monday night, the tour kicked off in front of a packed House of Blues crowd of hip hop heads young and old who were not at all disappointed.
Brother Ali, who prior to the show at the press junket said "I think my fans will come support me on this tour," was absolutely correct. The Rhymesayers representative hit the stage to a roar of applause and chants of "Ali". Brother Ali showcased his lyrical prowess with an ability to capture the crowd with narrative-heavy flows. Before taking the stage, Ali said "I come from a different place, being an albino Muslim from Minneapolis, so I have a very different perspective and I bring that out in my rhymes."
On Monday night, Ali brought this different perspective to everyone at the House of Blues, owning the crowd with both hard hitting bangers filled with wordplay and smooth cuts that show off his knack for bringing the audience face to face with his struggle. Being his first time playing alongside the Rhythm Roots All-Stars, you could sense some nervousness in the beginning of his set. As the show progressed, so too did Ali's comfort level, which he openly admitted in between songs, "I'm getting comfortable up here," said the emcee. That was followed by him asking for the lights to be turned down a little, "these lights are too bright for an albino" which got a big laugh. The highlight of his set was his powerful performance of "Walk Away" a song about dealing with his divorce from the woman he married at the age of 17. Pitchfork has called Ali, "one of the first great voices to emerge from the underground this century," which on paper or should I say on your computer's monitor reads like hyperbole. After watching him perform for the first time, however, I believed every word of it.
Next on the agenda was the sounds of the Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah. Ghostface has played alongside the Rhythm Roots All-Stars before, and it showed. Of the three emcees, none looked nearly as comfortable with the band backing him as Ghostface did. Same is true with the band, who weren't afraid to mix it up and occasionally veer from the music as it sounds on Ghost's records and into their own interpretations of the songs. On the classic Wu banger, "Ice Cream" the RR All-Stars transitioned into the songs opening from a snippet of the renowned break beat, "Apache" that brought the crowd to a collective sigh of amazement.
While the chemistry of Ghost and the All-Stars was clearly one of the highlights of the show, the lack of chemistry from Ghost and his group the Theodore Unit who served as hype men was easily the low point of the night. At Ghost's maturity level as an artist, someone who's album, Fishscale released last year was the critical darling of the year, it is a little disappointing to see him fall into the same trap that causes many to avoid hip hop shows. Including Ghost, there were five guys with microphones during his set. That's four too many. Unfortunately, for his performance of "Back like that" he asked the Unit to round up some ladies from the audience to bring on stage. If they are going to continue to do this antic throughout the tour the Unit is going to have to step their game up significantly. There were a lot of beautiful women in the audience Monday night yet somehow none of them were among the crowd of females who were brought on stage.
I understand that there is money to be made in getting your clique on, but I would have liked to see Ghostface rock it alone with the RR All-Stars as the show was advertised.
Last but certainly not least, Rakim took the stage. Considered by many to be one of the greatest emcees of all-time, it was definitely a treat to be in the presence of Rakim. As one of the most quoted emcees ever, it really is a thrill to hear the words that so many have duplicated coming out of the man who originally penned them. All the Long Island native had to do was the say the famous opening line "Thinking of a master plan..." to get the crowd to recite each and every word of the classic single, "Paid in Full" while he just stood there and pointed the mic in the direction of the audience. Rakim, who alongside his former DJ - Erik B, were famous for sampling the sounds of jazz music, is the perfect candidate for reworking the music that made him famous with accompaniment of a live band. Seeing the horn section of the RR All-Stars nail "Don't Sweat the Technique" and "I Ain't No Joke" were the highlights of my night. While he has remained relatively absent from the rap game over the last five years, Monday night's performance proved that we the fans need Rakim more than ever. He promised an album in '08 prior to the show at the junket, this performance has me hoping this master plan doesn't fall through.
You can check out video footage of the concert at Flow.TV
Photos of the show available at Getty Images.
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