All the Way Live: Brother Ali, Rakim, and Ghostface Killah review by Jordan Selbo

Categories: Concert Review

Hip Hop Live
November 11, 2007
First Avenue
Review by Jordan Selbo
Photos by Daniel Corrigan

Better Than: Looking silly at the club trying to learn the latest
incarnation of that Soulja Boy dance.

The Legend and the Heir Apparent: Rakim and Brother Ali.

In no other genre of music is patricide more prevalent than it is in hip
hop. Showing some wrinkles (and perhaps manifesting its most serious
mid-life crisis--why else have we suddenly become enamored with teeny
bopper rap muzak?), rap needs an antidote to the business-driven,
calculating, and computerized sound output now becoming the norm.
Enter Hip Hop Live, an intergenerational celebration of classic artists
and their art.

Performers included Brother Ali, our devoted hometown
hero and one of the premier artists of the future; Ghostface Killah, who
is fast solidifying his place as one of the most consistent and engaging
rappers of all time; and Rakim, a known legend who still rocks a crowd
with the effortless swagger of a god MC, all backed by the ten piece
funk/jam/Latin band Rhythm Roots All Stars.

As First Ave slowly filled to sardine status and the band opened with a
passionate infusion of energy and cohesion, the concert quickly became
one big party, a celebration of the first time we heard Paid in
or "Proteck Ya Neck." And though nostalgic (the crowd was
decidedly older than normal, with plenty of dusted off Kangols and grey
hair), the live format did what it was supposed to, effectively
reinterpreting our favorite records, rather than just being a pale
facsimile of them. Indeed, all three lyricists seemed infused by the
energy of frequent change-ups in tempo and style, giving the
appreciative crowd not only the standards, but also frequent personal
asides, history lessons, and thanks for being so live.

Of course Ali tore it down, garnering an encore as fans both old and
older gave it up while his seven-year-old son stood bobbing his head
stage right. Ghostface brought his Theodore Unit on stage (nine deep),
but fortunately the visual clutter didn't interfere with his
performance, as he rolled through over a decade's worth of classics. The
live band, with its horns and bongos, encouraged the Killah's soulful
side, which--despite him being tone deaf and unable to hit any high
notes--was still a treat to witness.

Finally, the living legend came through as he always does, with the
charisma and energy of an MC half his age. The only man onstage with a
mic, his laidback vibe was intimate and warm, leaving the job of
finishing indelible lines to the Rakim fanatics liberally sprinkled
throughout the venue. In sum, the key tonight was the human contact and
interaction that can only come with real instruments and vocalists,
nearly forgotten in an age of club hits and DATs. I guess you don't have
to be under the legal drinking age to rock the crowd after all.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I was one of the aforementioned fanatics finishing every rhyme for Rakim and singing my off-key ass off to each of Ghost's tortured wails.

Random Detail: After being nearly kicked out for sleeping in the corner before the music began (official policy), I have to ask: is the concern for patron safety, or that everyone will follow suit and steal a few winks on the dance floor?

By the way: The phrase "real hip hop" was bandied about all night, an indefinable trait which I agree is an adequate descriptor for the show. Although the ironies of describing a live band-formatted show as such, in an art form conceived using records, only to be later exploited by record labels that cut DJs in favor of cheaper in-house bands, before once again becoming sample-based, is nonetheless palpable.

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