Try as we might there is no way we will ever consider 1993 an age of innocence for hip hop, and try as comedian Alex Thomas might at Hut 97’s “The Tip Off” at the Theatre Of Madison Square Garden, it is willful distortion to claim anything for the early 1990s except an extremely dangerous, thug violent time that claimed the lives of two of the greatest rappers of all time. The P. Diddy and Snoop Dogg headlined all star concert tried to sell the 1990s as a different time but soon it became clear nothing much has changed. P. Diddy opened the nostalgia ladened two and a half hour show with film of Suge Knight at the 1995 Source Awards sneering a Diddy gibe: “Any artist out there that want to be an artist and stay a star, and don’t have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the record, dancing… come to Death Row!” With Suge in jail till further notice and Snoop Dogg, Suge’s greatest discovery, performing right next to Diddy, the smell was not of innocence returned but revenge served cold.
While the P.Diddy and Snoop, East-West, make music not war 20 plus years later, concert might pander to a fanbase who want to believe things were different, better, to quote Bob Seger “today’s music ain’t got the same soul”, this is a hard sell: it’s is one thing to claim that the Sugarhill Gang and Run DMC had a childlike glow to their music, that they were nursery rhymes, something else to claim the same of Snoop. As for Puff Daddy, the man is a pompous plank, he is the Donald Trump of hip hop, a large, conspicuously spectacularly greedy somewhat lucky man.
P Diddy and Snoop headlined the show, though it wasn’t a case of separate sets but one of a DJ set with acts seguing for hours on end. No live music, two DJs performed the honors, though the stage design and the light show were quite remarkable, especially for Diddy, huge LCD screens as rappers performed one, two, three songs in a row. The list of guests was remarkable: Lil Kim, T.I., Doug E. Fresh, The Lox, Black Robb, Busta Rhymes, Jermaine Dupri, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, French Montana, A$AP Ferg, O.T. Genasis , iLoveMakonnen, 112, Faith Evans, Nas, Naughty By Nature … an impressive mix of young and old.
It would have been much more impressive if the music wasn’t so negligible. It sounded like a nostalgia show, the rapping too loud, the backing tracks all beats, and streets, the sound should have been pristine but it sounded murky, and whatever you want to say about hip hop in 2015, it is certainly better live now than it was in 1993.
P Diddy is a specifically annoying character, though it certainly wasn’t the intention, I kinda agreed with Suge about Diddy: he is this egocentric guy, the sort of guy who would bully Drake over a beat, the sort of guy who is much more famous as a business man than as a performer. A very late start (930pm) made for a restless 90 minutes before it kicked in and while once Diddy began the show it moved very smoothly, getting there was a real drag. There is something a step out of line about Diddy, I remember seeing him at this very theatre two weeks after Biggie was murdered, a women in rap show he hijacked, and he was both misplaced and arrogant: there is something lacking in his tone.
Snoop was better, and really what a blast to see Snoop and Dr. Dre together again, with a gorgeous deep green copy of The Chronic’s album cover behind them though, still, it sounded a little bit off. Snoop sounds so distinctive he can get away with a lot and with Diddy as his competition, he put the show in his back pocket without really trying too hard and yet therein lies the problem. I’ve seen Snoop live any number of times, and he is not great. He can be good, and he does tends to raise to the occasion, and there was nothing here much worth raising.
The audience, on the other hand, a 90% black, over 30, maybe over 40 crowd, stood and sang and danced from one end of the concert to the other: this was their time, mine as well, I have never been a bigger hip hop fan than I was in the mid-1990s, it was the last time I seriously listened to a radio station and incidentally the station was Hot 97, but live it wasn’t as good as it is now: it was all beats and that was exactly what was captured. It was all borderline karaoke. It was the sort of show where Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.” was better than Snoop and Dre performing “Nothing But A G Thang”. Not pop culturally mind, just musically it worked better.
Snoop is laid back West Coast, Diddy is business class East Coast, and together they gave a thrilled to overflowing audience a trip through the 90s with huge stars, I mean Faith AND Lil Kim??? But as music, judged at face, these great songs didn’t translate well enough.
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