Despite the sustained potent impact of hip-hop in the nation’s music stores, the still-young genre, which relies on the studio wizardry of its star producers for much of its impact, lags behind most other styles when it comes to the artists effectively expressing themselves in con-cert. On the second night of the coast-to-coast Up in Smoke tour, a stellar lineup of rap’s biggest stars produced a rousing evening of beats and brags that represents a major, if somewhat shaky, step forward for live hip-hop.
A phalanx of security and police officers both inside and outside the venue kept things peaceful throughout, but they were little deterrent to the many pot smokers in the packed house (not to mention onstage). Metal detectors at all entry points reinforced hip-hop’s shaky reputation with promoters and venues.
The long (four hours-plus) evening started slowly, with brief sets from newcomer TQ and Snoop proteges Tha Eastsidaz, as well from the Long Beach rapper Warren G. One hour in, a 30-minute set from Detroit loud-mouth Eminem, who’s making as much news of late for his run-ins with the law as he is for his month-old smash album “The Marshall Mathers LP” (Aftermath/Interscope), brought life to the rowdy crowd, which knew all the words to his violence-themed tunes. The blonde rapper insulted as many female friends and family members as he could recall, much to the apparent delight of all.
Ice Cube — a former NWA member and a true superstar of hip-hop — along with sidekicks WC and Mack-10 delivered a hard-hitting half-hour of hits that well outclassed his onstage predecessor, including “Bow Down,” “Check Yourself” and the positive vibes of 1992’s rap classic “It Was a Good Day.” A guest turn by former NWA member MC Ren was a taste of things to come.
The headlining portion by Dre and Snoop — following a pointless intro skit on the video screens that showed our heroes inside a convenience store, where they calmly emptied their guns into their hapless, poor-shooting rivals — started 45 minutes late but was worth the wait. All the artists on the bill joined in for at least one tune during the 75-minute portion, making for one highlight after another.
Dre and Snoop are a compelling pair, with contrasting looks and vocal styles, and both sound best when teamed with the other, as shown on tracks such as “Nothin’ but a G Thing” and “Still Dre,” taken from last year’s hit album “Dr. Dre — 2001.” Snoop took front and center for such high points as “Gin and Juice” and the goof “Lodi Dodi,” while Eminem and Xzibit traded boasts during “What’s the Difference.”
Korrupt and Snoop’s cousin Nate Dogg joined in for the smooth love/lust song “Xxplosive.” (Nate Dogg, 30, whose given name is Nathan-iel Dwayne Hale, was arrested at his Pomona home on Saturday and was being held over the weekend in lieu of $1 million bail after allegedly mak-ing terrorist threats against his girlfriend and torching her mother’s car.)
The concert was supposed to end with a three-song NWA reunion, with Snoop subbing for the late Eazy E, but was cut due to time constraints to just one song, a perfunctory run-through of the new track “Chin Check,” from the soundtrack to the film “Next Friday.”