This article was corrected on Sept. 10, 2002.
The inaugural Sprite Liquid Mix tour is essentially a younger, gentler cousin to this summer’s other rap/rock outing, the 3-year-old Anger Management Tour. Where that show had Eminem’s nasty “Fight Music” and Papa Roach’s mopey, dark “She Love Me Not,” the Sprite tour countered with Jay-Z’s bouncy “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me)” and 311’s reggae-lite “Amber.” But, despite the good-natured attitude of most of the acts, the long day was filled with too many subpar performances and the lack of any real breakaway set. The day’s most notable acts could be broken down into three pairings of similar groups, which sometimes seemed like the good, the bad, and — if not the ugly — the inconsistent.
The best moments came during short sets by Blackalicious and Talib Kweli, two like-minded, DJ oriented hip-hop acts whose verbal acrobatics were impressive and energetic. Both performed on the smaller second stage, making their sets feel like the intimate hip-hop equivalent of an unplugged performance. Blackalicious’ MC, Gift of Gab, riled up the crowd with wave-your-hands-in-the-air rap cliches before unloading rat-a-tat rhymes that often weaved around the complex beats his DJ laid down.
Kweli’s similar-feeling set was aided by a pair of melodic backup singers and a surprise appearance from longtime collaborator Mos Def, whose dexterous rhyming nearly stole the set from Kweli. During a lighthearted freestyle bout by the two, Def rapped, “last year my catalog was so impressive/that this year my rookie card is damn expensive,” rightfully winning cheers; Kweli’s response petered out as he implored the DJ to “play a song instead.”
The show’s weakest points came during its rock headliners, Hoobastank and 311, both rock radio favorites but, ultimately, lightweight artists. Though both groups were Tupperware-tight, their sound — vaguely upset, modern-rock distortion rants for the former, upbeat reggae-funk-rock for the latter — ultimately proved too repetitive, with each song almost indiscernible from the next. Though 311 was one of the innovators of the rock/rap trend, they’ve grown stale with the genre, repeating past triumphs instead of moving into new territory.
Sets by Neptunes producer Pharrell Williams’ N.E.R.D. project and headliner Jay-Z were arguably the most anticipated of the day, but they also proved to be the most problematic. Williams and his band (the proggy Sexmob) had a hard time maintaining the crowd’s attention; the all-over-the-place set started strong and hit a roadblock midpoint, with Williams stretching by playing bits of his biggest production hits, including Busta Rhymes’ ubiquitous “Pass the Courvoisier” and Clipse’s current hit, “Grindin.” When that didn’t work, he paraded his famous friends — ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake, pro skateboarder Tony Hawk — onstage, garnering boos from the audience. Williams, frustrated, blamed the venue’s seats and asked the audience to ignore security to push to the front, causing a swell toward the stage and a near-riot toward the back. Finally satisfied, the band played through its hit, “Rock Star,” but it was too little, too late.
Likewise Jay-Z. His flow was more impressive onstage than his recorded output would suggest; he rapped ably and emotionally, paying tribute to slain cohorts Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. respectfully. But his mistake was inviting his extended Roc-a-Fella family onstage. While giving 11 of his friends microphones may have seemed initially like a good idea, it didn’t take long for their cameos to feel like houseguests overstaying their welcome: They were messy, they got in the way, and, eventually, it was hard to remember why they were invited in the first place.