First off, I want to thank the people that have helped me to keep this monthly column going. I’ve gotten a lot of support from the hip-hop community and music fans in general. I have also heard a lot of “Now we’ve got someone on the inside” type of comments, and I appreciate them.
I usually spend this space informing you of an artist or event, but this month will be a little different. This column is addressed toward rappers, but I think it’s of interest for anyone who cares about hip-hop. I present: What not to do at your hip-hop show.
1. Don’t rap over your own vocals.
Get an instrumental, please. Stop lip-synching. You look like Britney Spears without the choreography. Rapping along to a vocal track takes all the spontaneity out of a performance. If a rock band has to rehearse for months or years before a show, then you can take a few extra minutes to compile the instrumentals.
2. Don’t write lyrics so dense that you can’t perform them live.
Let that beat breathe! If you can’t kick it live, you are using too many filler words. The crowd won’t understand what you are saying, which puts you at an immediate disadvantage. Cut the fat and cut to the chase. Leave the tongue twisters to that chick Sally at the seashore.
3. Don’t tell me what to do all night.
Too many hip-hop shows descend into a jazzercise session. A little call and response is always good, but the audience is not your guinea pig. There is nothing more awkward than being told to put your hands up for the umpteenth time because the music is not banging enough that we would do it on our own.
4. Get creative with your live show.
Do you have other talents? Incorporate them. Don’t paint yourself into a box. Break your own rules. Collaborate. There are infinite ways to add variety to your concert.
5. The soundman is not your DJ.
You mean not only did you fail to put your songs in the right order for your show CD, but you don’t even know where the songs are on the disk? “Next track, soundman.” No. Next act, soundman.
6. Know your audience (and speak to them).
You are hard-core. We get it. Now the second-graders in the front row also know how much weight you move, whose girl you’ll be with and in what position and how to kill one of their peers. I mean, even the fourth-graders are impressed, and we know how tough a crowd they can be. Maybe next time, try to have a more diverse range of subject matter to fit different occasions.
7. Don’t insult your audience.
This should go without saying, yet I still hear it happening. Do not write lyrics like you are in a battle with the listener. And if the crowd is failing to feel your performance, it’s not that we don’t get what you’re saying, we just don’t dig how you’re saying it.
8. Don’t scream the whole time.
There are a few local rappers that I might dig if their delivery wasn’t one-dimensional and abrasive. Find some vocal peaks and valleys.
9. Explore different subject matter.
Don’t make your setlist a rundown of every rap cliché. Battle song: check. Girl in the club song: check. Drug song: check. Money song: check. It’s more predictable than a political convention.
It’s not all negative. There are quite a few groups in Indy that are not always guilty of the preceding.
Here are a few of the good habits that I’ve seen at hip-hop concerts.
• Do use the other emcees’ voices in your crew to their full potential. Interact lyrically, and get creative with vocal arrangements. This is one of the strongest tools in a group’s arsenal.
• Do have some CD samplers to give out. Maybe your show was dope, but we might not know how well that translates in the studio.
• Do seek out shows with bands from other genres. Create new exposure. Don’t become complacent, playing with the same groups to the same crowd. That is the kiss of death.
• And most of all, be yourself. Stop posing and trying to play a part. If your music is honest, people will appreciate it, period.