After watching Kanye West do everything in his power to wreck The Police’s set during their Live Earth appearance, it dawned on me that I’ve rarely heard a rapper good in a live setting. Let me mention that I’m not a rap hater. While I do think the whole genre has been pretty stale over the past few years, rap music has produced a lot of classic works. The one thing rap hasn’t done is consistently produce compelling live performances.
During the early 1990’s, musical festivals were at their peak, providing some of my favorite musical memories. My greatest musical experience was 1992’s Lollapalooza, which featured a lineup of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Lush, Ministry, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The only mediocre performance of the day was by Ice Cube. Ice Cube was at his peak at the time, with a number of great songs in his playlist, but he couldn’t come close to translating the power of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted or Death Certificate in person.
My second favorite festival show was at WOMAD 1993, which featured James, Crowded House, Lenny Kravitz, and Peter Gabriel joined by special guest Sinead O’Connor. Not only were these acts uniformly top-notch, but rap-inspired groups PM Dawn and Stereo MC’s were every bit as good. While nowhere as influential as an artist like Ice Cube, these bands had the ability to present their rapping with some musicality.
This is the major problems with most rap acts in a live setting, as the best samples and turntable gymnastics don’t translate well in a live setting. It seems to be harder to actually rap than it is sing in front of a live audience, considering how so often the vocal elements of the genre becomes a monontony of "Party People in the House Say Oh Yeah" time after time after time.
The only rap acts that consistently make for good live performances have brought instruments to the party, like the Roots or the Beastie Boys. Two of the greatest live acts in the history of rock and roll music are James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. Both also happen to be among the most sampled artists playing in the beats that have appeared on rap records. As great as bands like Public Enemy and De La Soul were, they lost some of what them made them special when they played live, as the samples and turntables just don’t translate well to the live experience.
Despite how badly most rap music sounds during a live performance, all award shows feature the top stars in the genre. Outside of a rare performance like LL Cool J, whose charisma and power sold Mama Said Knock You Out or the amazingly cool style of an MC like Rakim, most rap performances fall flat, without a live band supplementing them.
So throw your hands in the air…and wave them like you just don’t care. When an MC says this at a concert, it’s like they are reading my mind, because I truly don’t care…don’t care to hear rap music from a stage.
Please Explain Rap Music during a live performance. I dig Beck, but why I should appreciate just 2 turntables and a microphone, when I’m at a concert hall?
Quick review of Al Gore’s Live Earth spectacle. It fell mainly flat for me. Where were the major artists who make me feel passionate about political issues? (U2, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, Rise Against, etc.) Sorry, but Madonna and Duran Duran don’t cause me to feel much connection to climate change.
Kudos does go out to Cameron Diaz and her sexy legs going on forever in her short shorts. When she introduced Gore, I felt a serious case of global warming going on in my shorts! (Can I get a drummer, please?) Yes, whatever you say Mistress Cameron. I must buy a hybrid and use only 2 squares of TP per day.