On the way to see Raekwon, Ghostface and Mobb Deep. Say no more – you could drag me to Mogadishu for a double-bill of that caliber. Much more conveniently, I was headed to the Tabernacle, in my hometown of Atlanta. Among the records paramount to my musical upbringing, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and The Infamous certainly hold places of honor. Both have seen their day atop my GOAT list, and when the mood strikes, they still find themselves back there.
As I sat in the car, I wondered aloud how the audience would be split. It’s a controversial truth, but record rap sales have been made since the days of Public Enemy by curious white kids. Yet it persists as an uncomfortable fact for some, and is often still brushed under the rug. See what The Roots have to say about the matter for another perspective. Still, this was a ’95 special, Mobb Deep and Wu, dusty ass rugged rap, playing in Atlanta. This whole line of thinking isn’t something I’ve always dedicated much thought to, but as I continue to attend shows such as this, friend after friend asks me: “How’s it feel to be the white kid in the room?”
Truth is, the debate as to the “realness” of a dedicated whitie in an art form largely indebted to racial tension is both long running and cannot be simply dismissed. The image of the white boy that knows every word, holding his tongue for the N-words is an inevitably enduring one.
We walked towards the venue, and my friend announces, “I’ve never been to a rap show.” I outwardly revel in the new energy he’ll find, inwardly hoping that he wouldn’t embarrass himself. We certainly weren’t the only caucasians in the room, but we were certainly in the minority. My friend’s uncertainty made me begin to the rethink the whole thing again; if ya ask me, it’s a matter of perspective, race in no way should limit culture, let alone music culture. There’s no simple black and white in hip hop, no matter confused old white America’s perspective.
An opening act of three kid Wu worshipers (11, 13, and 16, if memory serves) had been spitting impressively for their ages for a while, preceded and followed by a hype man that either believed that only berating his audience excited them, or had simply consumed a bit too much cocaine. We’d hopped out to the porch for a reprieve, surrounded by a bunch of guys trying to make joint’s look like cigarettes for a clearly disinterested security guard.
In true fashion, Mobb wouldn’t hit the stage until an hour and a half had passed since their intended start time. We were pelted with another opener, my friend had wondered off in search of alcohol, and I’d gratefully slipped away to the front. If there was one criticism to lob at the Tabernacle, it’d be of their dance floor. The damn thing was inclined. Try bumping to three hours of live rap on deck on a slow moving treadmill. You get the idea.
A guy behind me started yelling, “Where’s Mobb Deep?,” and, “We want Mobb Deep, nigga!,” followed by, “We don’t wanna see you nigga! Mobb Deep!” He just kept going, advancing on the stage, and in the defining moment of his performance, the young opener quipped, “I wanna see Mobb Deep too, my nigga.” Everyone gave him the biggest cheer he’d get and we got it: he was just another kid waiting.
Then shit got real. Alchemist came on out, began setting up, and popped on the beats. Next thing I knew, Havoc and Prodigy were belting rhymes at me. Thanks to that troublesome prison sentence, this was the first time I’d been able to see P perform. They started right off with “The Start of Your Ending,” but I soon realized the albums wouldn’t be played in their entirety. It was understandable, out of the Rock the Bells flow, and it made more sense to present a typical concert. Not that it mattered, Al threw on “Outta Control remix” and I felt like I was living in the G Unit era all over again. In a cute bromance moment, the duo went back and forth embarrassing one another with sincere compliments. I hope the record eventually shows I was the first journalist to describe anything related to Mobb Deep as “cute.” P, if you read this, don’t end me.
For one track, they brought Alchemist out from behind the boards, and he spit a surprisingly voracious verse. Finally, it came down to the last song, and P looked at the audience, declaring, “You know I couldn’t get outta here without doin’ my shit.” Al let the beat to “Shook Ones Pt. II” stutter, and the crowd flipped. Then it dropped in earnest, and Prodigy began what can only be considered one of the genre’s greatest verses. Respect to The Infamous.
And then it was Wu. I won’t lie, I’ve spent my time worshipping at their temple, and simply seeing Rae and Ghost bust out onto the stage was a thunderous moment. They set it up just right – with that Cuban Linx… dialogue playing, and then the verses crashed in, the two MC’s simply emerging.
Their performance was truly titanic. Ripping through the Wu discography, they performed essentials and a few unexpected choices. Tity Boi was even randomly present for a single song. After an hour or more, Ghostface asked,
“Well shit, aight then, just checkin….what do yall wanna hear?”
I bellowed my opinion in vain, but at least the man was taking requests. Always a good move.
After finishing a song near the end, Raekwon said, “Yo, I wanna talk to all the white people in here tonight. If you’re here, you’re hip hop.” – he got a few catcalls – “I’m serious. To all my white niggas, you support real hip hop, that’s my heart. You a part. You, and now I’m talkin to all of you here, help us feed our families, and I’m thankful for that. We all thankful for that.” It risks sounding cheesy in print, but it was all a great moment.
He brought a little boy, declaring, “This Lil’ Raekwon.” The kid shyly looked out at the audience, and friends and family of the artists – as well as a reemerging Tity Boi (or 2Chainz, whatever he fancies these days) – joined them on stage for an encore of “Rock Star,” off Rae’s latest disc. It wasn’t at all what I’d expected, frankly, I’m not overly fond of the album version, but live, it’s thrashing beat gains an entirely new energy. Each MC rode over it perfectly, and they were out. I clambered up the treadmill, my friend sitting in wait, completely exhausted. Looks like he discovered the power of the rap show, and it was one hell of a performance to be tossed in for. For a show intended as a tease for a larger event, the evening at the Tabernacle had been a massive one.