I am not really a hip-hop fan, but I have seen several hip-hop acts over the years. Most of those sets happened as part of a festival or multiple-band lineup. So, I can say I’ve seen hip-hop on stage, but I haven’t really attended a concert that featured just hip-hop or rap.
This changes Tuesday night. A ticket became available for the Jay-Z/Kanye West show in Kansas City tomorrow night and I was invited to attend. I will have no idea what’s going on or probably the words to most of the songs, but I suspect it will be a pretty impressive show. It’s a free ticket to see probably the top two MC’s in hip-hop today. There’s no way I’d turn that down. It should be interesting.
All that said, here’s a list of the best hip-hop acts I’ve seen in-person. The details are sketchy as I probably wiped portions of these sets from my memory, but I was there either way. All that and tomorrow night’s show should top any group on this list just by sheer star power alone. My street cred will skyrocket or something.
5. Big Boi (2010, Pitchfork) – Though I was really just waiting for Pavement’s set to start while Big Boi played a solo set at last year’s Pitchfork Fest in Chicago, I did watch and listen. Big Boi mixed a few of his newer solo bits with loads of OutKast tracks scattered throughout the set. So, at least I actually knew most of the songs by virtue of being under 50 and alive.
4. Arrested Development (1993, Lollapalooza) – Arrested Development marked the peek and eventual downfall of the earthy, hippie hip-hop of the early nineties. The genre just couldn’t keep up with gangsta rap. Still, it was quite the stage show with some crazy-ass dancers and actual instruments, something I never thought I’d see at a hip-hop show. I know better than that now, but at the time it was a novelty.
3. De Le Soul (2002, Unlimited Sunshine Tour) – De Le was well past their prime when I caught them sharing the stage with Modest Mouse, Flaming Lips, and Cake, but they were legends – in hip-hop terms. It may even have been a reunion or comeback tour of some kind. What was most striking is the number of white people who knew how to act for a hip-hop group. It had been nine years since my first hip-hop show and white folk had come a long way by 2002. I’m sure it happened before that, but this is the moment I noticed. De La had a lot of energy to start, but sort of fizzled as the set waned.
2. A Tribe Called Quest (1994, Lollapalooza) – This was a couple of years after the Low End Theory, but Tribe was peaking at this point. They were relatively early in the lineup and had to contest with the mid-day heat. So, the crowd was less than enthused. This was also the height of the mid-nineties alterna-rage. Smashing Pumpkins co-headlined with…
1. Beastie Boys (1994, Lollapalooza) – I don’t care what anyone says, the Beastie Boys were originators. They not only bridged the gap between rock and rap, but they connected hip-hop and punk in a way that no one has been able to do since. This was the Ill Communication tour, so they were at the top of their game. Tribe even joined them for a couple of songs.
Bonus: Cypress Hill (1995, Lollapalooza) – Two words: giant bong. That’s all you really need to know.