De La Soul, Rahzel, Twilight Sentinels

The Vogue

Sunday, July 31  In an angry, petulant but ultimately entertaining performance Sunday night, hip-hop legends De La Soul once again showed themselves to be a band at war with its past and uncertain about its future. As one of the last groups from rap’s Golden Age (1985-93) to still hit the road regularly — when was the last time you saw Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth or Public Enemy play live? — De La Soul must simultaneously live up to their glorious past yet maintain their viability as contemporary artists.  It’s a coin toss on whether they achieved either of their goals Sunday, as they played to a half-empty Vogue and managed to alienate much of the audience during their 90-minute set.  Sixteen years after their debut album made them stars, De La Soul is still trying to live down the pop success they achieved with the hit single “Me, Myself and I.” In the past, they’ve prefaced the song with a chant of “We hate this song, but we know you love this song.”  On Sunday, however, they performed the song at a Ramones-like clip, muting the famous P-Funk sample that opens it and racing through the verses as if in a fastest-rapper competition.  De La Soul being both entrapped and contemptuous of their past is nothing new. This is the band, after all, which named its second album De La Soul Is Dead. But their rage at being pigeonholed as the daisy-toting rappers has never been more pronounced, nor expressed as vividly as it was at the Vogue.  After they sped through “Me, Myself and I,” leader Kelvin “Pos” Mercer hyped the crowd into a frenzy and DJ Maseo cued up “Ego Trippin’,” from their 1993 album Buhloone Mindstate. The crowd, excited to hear the song, started jumping up and down.   But just as quickly as it started, Pos cut off the song, berating the audience for not being appreciative enough. The hook started up again and again, only to be cut off.  Strangest of all, when they finally let the song begin, the group performed only the opening line. On disc, David “Dove” Jolicoeur begins the track with a friendly “Yep, yep big trucker man’s rollin’ in town/How ya do, how ya do.”  On Sunday, they limited their performance of the song to those two lines, over and over, in every conceivable style and delivery. It was just one of the crowd-baffling moves.  They also spotlighted songs from their new album, Grind Date, but with no more joy or energy than their older material. Clearly, this was a band that did not want to be there and they treated their fans, as well as their own legacy, with a marked disdain.  At one point, Dove said, “It’s not about selling a million records or being on MTV. It’s about the music. It’d be boring if we did the songs the same as they were on the records.” That was as close to an explanation as the audience got.  They did lighten up a bit towards the end of the set, when the group invited women from the audience onstage. Pos delivered a feminist message about treating women with respect and how they are hip-hop, too. “These are not hoes,” he said. “These are the women who buy the concert tickets and the albums and request the songs.” It was one of the few upbeat moments in a very intense show.  Before De La Soul took the stage, Rahzel, the “human beatbox” from the Roots, delivered a very entertaining and enjoyable set. His DJ would play a record such as “React” by Erick Sermon and Rahzel would replicate the complex beats by himself.  He did a very credible White Stripes impression, performing the beats and the riff to “Seven Nation Army.” For Rahzel, it was all about making the crowd happy.  Local rappers The Twilight Sentinels opened the show with a very impressive performance that paid homage to the old school while attempting to create their own unique modern style.  It’s just too bad that the legendary headliners couldn’t do the same thing.

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