The 5 biggest rap concert killers

Recently, I went to see the Wu-Tang Clan in concert at a tiny venue less than two miles from my house here in suburban D.C. Aside from being shocked that the mighty Wu was playing the State Theatre, home to such noteworthy acts as The Legwarmers and Frontiers, I was equally impressed that we were told up front that the RZA would not be appearing instead of having to squint through the Clan and determine the Abbot was not there.

It was a rare up-front moment in the notoriously shady world of rap concerts, and gave me hope that we would see a top-notch show.

And so the eager crowd packed into the State and waited… and waited… and waited. As a rap-show veteran, I’m well aware that NO rap concert is starting at the stated time on the ticket, but the Wu left the crowd standing around until midnight before coming on stage and immediately falling victim to one of the things that absolutely (and routinely) send rap shows spiraling into oblivion.

Here are, in no order, the five biggest rap concert killers (and I’ve unfortunately seen them all).

1. The “YO, SOUNDMAN!” Syndrome

Hey, I understand that being an engineer is a difficult job. I couldn’t do it. But if you’re working the soundboard and you know that the Wu-Tang Clan is coming through, and you need eight or more hot microphones, wouldn’t you do your damndest to make sure that each and every mic works?

Alas the Wu fell victim to “Yo, Soundman” right away. Instead of getting the crowd hyped during “Bring Da Ruckus,” the energy immediately fizzled as only three microphones worked properly, earning the quick and decisive wrath of Raekwon, who went on a classic “Yo, Soundman” tirade, berating the poor bastards at the soundboard and telling the crowd to turn their ire toward them as well.

I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve been to where a disgruntled rapper spends time telling the guy in the booth to “Turn my shit up,” or “Hit my mic!” It completely ruins the rap concert experience – I don’t imagine that Celine Dion has to tell her soundman to turn her shit up during her performances.

2. THE LACKLUSTER CROWD

Way back in my college years, I gave up the one day undergrads actually had fun at my school (Dillo Day) to attend what I thought would be an amazing concert: Wu-Tang, Geto Boys, OutKast and others.

Man, was I hyped. The only problems? The show was located at some shady venue on the Southside of Chicago and was put on by the local radio station – two things that should have raised red flags, but which I willfully ignored. So, myself, Sarah Huss and Phu Huynh waded through a few local, nondescript acts before the Geto Boys. Only the Geto Boys weren’t there. Just Willie D, who performed his verses from their iconic songs.

But that was fine, because OutKast was next. But this was early OutKast, when they were still building buzz off their first CD. Which meant the denizens of Chi-town were not quite up on the next big thing in rap.

I’ll never forget what happened next. Big Boi and Andre 3000 came out guns ablazin’, delivering their rhymes to a crowd that could hardly be bothered to act interested. So midway through the second song, in the middle of a verse, Big Boi says, “Yo, this crowd is wack, we’re out,” drops the mic and leaves. Twenty-one year old Elliott is stunned. And Wu-Tang never shows up.

3. “HERE’S SOME NEW SHIT”

This one could apply for any concert – no one really wants to hear an established artists do a bunch of songs that we’ve hardly heard before – but rap fans are extremely fickle, and when you have to brave the other things we’re talking about here to see a show, you want to hear the good stuff.

When I go to a show to see Ice Cube, elbow my way up to the front and spend my hard-earned cash on overpriced beer, the last thing I want to hear is “I Got My Locs On.” How in the holy hell am I supposed to be excited about a substandard song I’ve never heard? I’m sure Cube gets tired of plowing through his hits, but why else would anyone go see Ice Cube in 2011? The guy hasn’t made a good album in years.

The proper ratio for any rap show should be 90% classics to 10% new stuff. I once saw Ghostface perform one song off the new album he was promoting – that’s good stuff.

4. OPENING ACT-APALOOZA

Sure, almost every artist at one time started as the opening act, but that doesn’t mean I have to see them when they are raw and unfocused, do I?

When I lived in Seattle, this was a crisis of epic proportions. You see, big-name artists would roll through and every crew with a microphone and an amp would attach themselves to the show in hopes of … what? Selling a few CDs? Hoping Nas would fall in love and sign them immediately? Shock the crowd with their intricate lyrics and powerful stage presence?

None of those things ever happened at any show at which I ever attended. Instead, we were usually greeted with a bunch of indistinguishable rappers shouting wildly before an indifferent crowd. In order to get a little buzz, they’d throw out the fake “Who’s ready for Talib Kweli?!” before launching into another interminable set of songs.

It got so bad that I wouldn’t bother showing up to shows until damn near 11 p.m., sometimes missing the start of the headliner’s performance. But it was worth it to avoid hearing another performance by the Get Bizzy Crew.

5. DISTRACTION TECHNIQUES

When I go to a show, I want to hear the music. That’s it. But some rappers just can’t resist adding time-worn distraction techniques geared to either pulling your attention away from a lackluster performance or honing their naked greed.

You know what I’m talking about. How many shows have you been to where the artist wants to know “Who has the weed?,” which then leads to a five-minute delay as people throw blunts on the stage, hoping to be the lucky recipient of a Snoop Dogg smoke ring? Or how about the time-honored, bring-the-girls-up-on-the-stage trick, even though 97% of rap shows are populated by pasty dudes? This means we get to see the cream of the crop bottom of the barrel of a city’s talent. This might work in Miami, but it goes over like lead in Boise.

And then you have the hawkers. We all know that most artists make money from merchandise and CD sales, but do they have to be so pushy about it. I’ve actually been to a show where the performers stopped in the middle of their set and demanded people go back to the merchandise table and buy shit before they got started again.

Sure, concerts are fun, but when you’re headed to a rap show, you’ve got to know what you’re getting into if you want to leave with your sanity.

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~ by Elliott on July 26, 2011.

One Response to “The 5 biggest rap concert killers”

  1. […] of a mega-tour from Jay-Z and Kanye West seemed like another opportunity to disappoint, given the many ways rap shows can turn into […]

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