Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Rap In Performance

Los Angeles Rapper/Producer Blu was recently confronted by a fan onstage, criticising him for not 'ripping' it right. According to onlookers, Blu seemed dazed and confused, forgetting his lines and slurring his words. Though this can probably be ascribed to alcohol/weed consumption, it is a true fact about hip hop generally that live performances can leave a lot to be desired. Having thought about the reasons for this, I have compiled a list of why rap performances in particular often suffer in comparison to other genres of music.

1. Drug consumption
Though it is true that many other genres of music are strongly intertwined with a culture of alcohol/drugs, hip hop has a particular love affair with marijuana. This has the unfortunate effect of making many rappers relax to the point of a glazed non-performance. When I saw Snoop Dogg at the O2 Academy, the man could hardly move, never mind provide a coherent performance.

2. Arrogance
Returning to the Snoop Dogg debacle, part of the reason for his debilitating drug induced state could be the fact that some rappers have too many unquestioning, adoring fans. Even if he had stood perfectly still and simply hummed some bars from Doggystyle before leaving the stage, I truly believe that 99% of the people in the room would have gone home beside themselves with joy. Adoration seems to have bred laziness in some of the genre's biggest stars.

3. Sound Quality
When a band plays live, each individual instrument contributes to the overall sound quality. A hip hop artist usually has only a DJ to provide the backing track to his rhymes. The various components making up the beat cannot be heard separately, becoming distorted when played at high volume. This means that only the best quality systems are equipped to deal with this problem, often resulting in sub standard sound quality at gigs where the best is unaffordable.

4. Performance
When a band finally reaches a stage, it will usually be the result of hours and hours spent practicing as a unit. This is not true of new MC's. Theoretically, a rapper can record a new song in a studio, have it playing on the radio and be booked to perform within a month. If this is a newcomer, they will have very little experience in terms of performance. Often the MC is onstage alone, with no instrument or prop as a recourse, meaning that even the most seasoned pros struggle to maintain the interest of an audience for the hour or so they perform. This can result in shaky, nervous early performances, leading to criticism in terms of a lack of charisma.

5. Song Length
The vast majority of hip hop tracks contain 3 verses of around 40 seconds in length, and often include a hook to link them together. The problem is that one of the three verses is often taken by a guest rapper (or sometimes more than one of the verses). This means that a rapper can have an incredibly popular record that the audience is expecting to hear, but if it features someone else the length of the song can be seriously curtailed. This was particularly notable when I watched Raekwon at the Liquid Room. Being a member of Wu-Tang, he naturally included their most popular tracks in his set. As Wu-Tang has/had 9 members, it meant the crowd was treated to what amounted to 5 minutes of Raekwon snippets.

Of course, this is not to say that every hip hop performance will be terrible or substandard. KRS One provided me with a wonderful introduction to the world of live hip hop, sustaining a ferocious intensity throughout. Similarly, Public Enemy performed for over 2 hours, the veterans showing how a love for the art can prolong a career for over 20 years. It isn't just the old timers setting the example, however. Wiz Khalifa set down the blueprint for youthful enthusiasm when I saw him in November, restoring hope that the new generation of MC's will eventually be able to perform to the maximum of their potential.

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