Rap, with all its inherent warts and travails, is a wondrous force when taken in the context of a socioeconomic barometer. It both informs and entertains, but with four performers crammed into one evening, a critical weakness in the genre’s live presentation was exposed. Indeed, live rap has long suffered from a lackluster appearance, as if simply presenting lyrics, beats and massive volume suffices as “show.” Doesn’t work in this day and age — yet Ludacris, Chingy, Banner and Knoc-Turn’Al utilized the exact same method to whip the audience into a frenzy.
Acting like a runaway Xerox machine, repeat modes began with Knoc-Turn’Al dividing the audience in half and pushing the left side to holler louder than the right side; that was replicated by Banner, Chingy and Ludacris. It was a beat-down of the senses.
The annoying street teams that dominated the stage by waving huge placards and tossing sundry items to the audience were an added distraction. They created a colossal disruption that took away much of the lyrical content provided by the four rappers.
Knoc-Turn’Al, in a West Side homecoming, wasted his literal 15 minutes of fame by talking to the audience for half his set, a la Patti LaBelle, rather than playing songs from his impressive “The Way I Am” album. Knoc paid homage to the West Side, then to all the gangstas that populated the front rows — and then to the West Side a whole lot more. His wiry vocal style mirrored his reed-thin frame as Knoc mixed strong West Coast grooves and rhymes that perpetuated the dwindling gangsta mode of living large.
Banner, style-wise, was striking with his gravelly flow, a mix of Southern grit with thick, rapid-fire beats. He fluctuated between glorifying pimping on “Like a Pimp” with gospel on the contrite “My Lord.”
Chingy proved adept at working the crowd with a smoothed-out stream of party lyrics highlighted by his smash hit “Right Thurr” plus “Represent” and “Sample That Ass.” Co-rapper I-20 tossed in a quick appearance during Chingy’s set to throw down “Fightin’ in the Club,” which signified a formidable presence on the rap scene.
Headliner Ludacris was the more polished performer, with a hard-charging, authoritative panache. In four short years, Ludacris has moved into the level occupied by LL Cool J, whose tough everyman approach brought him respect from the streets and corporate boardrooms. He is capable of comedy (“Blow It Out”), politics (an oversized T-shirt with “F*** Bill O’Reilly” on it) and partying (“Rollin’,” “Area Codes” and “Splash Waterfalls”).
He entered to the strains of the powerful “Southern Fried Intro,” which is fueled by a sample of the intro to Isaac Hayes’ 1969 take on “Walk on By.”
Chingy, Banner and Knoc-Turn’Al returned on “Holidae In” before closing with “Stand Up,” a song that closed with a derogatory chant as Ludacris and his posse strode off the stage.
It was a strange way to end a concert that put down a sizable chunk of the audience that adores Ludacris. But there didn’t seem to be any complaints from his adoring fans.
However, until someone enters the scene with an innate sense of how to work an audience in an innovative way, things will stay as they are: so-called “real,” misogynistic and brutally boring on the eyes.