Throughout my tenure as a dedicated hip-hop head, I’ve been to hundreds of shows. While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on how to put on an engaging hip-hop show by any means, I’ve become keenly aware of what I will and won’t accept.
When it comes to forking over my limited funds, I fully expect a live experience to deepen or enhance any experience I may have had with that artist through my headphones or car speakers. I also look to live music to introduce me to new artists, and if an artist is skimping on their live performances, it absolutely hinders my further enjoyment of that artist.
Having seen everyone from Del the Funky Homosapien to 21 Savage, I’ve noticed that as hip-hop’s sounds and styles have continued to change, there’s become an increase in the trend of emcees using their full tracks as background support as opposed to just the instrumental version. I’m old enough to remember when rapping over your own vocals was grounds for immediate clownery, but as I attend more and more performances from artists both new and veteran, it feels like no one even questions this practice anymore.
I’ve become increasingly irritated by this approach, so it was a breath of fresh air and a validation of my sanity when I heard Denzel Curry bring up the topic within the first couple minutes of his recent interview with Sway in the Morning. The Florida emcee credited The Underachievers with teaching him how to perform correctly, before launching into a mini-tirade against artists who feel it’s perfectly acceptable to rap over their own SoundCloud playlist, vocals and all.
"I be lookin at shows and muhfuckas be playing they shit, and it be the fuckin’ soundtrack from the fuckin’ SoundCloud, dawg! And I'm like, bruh, just have the instrumental at least, ‘cause I wanna hear YOU. If I wanted to hear the track, nigga, I coulda stayed in my car. For real, I'm deadass bro. Stop that shit, do your lyrics bruh, they came to see you, so you gotta give them that fuckin’ show."
While I agree wholeheartedly with Denzel’s sentiments regarding the sanctity of a live hip-hop performance, the more performances I see from younger artists, the more I’m convinced that today’s hip-hop crowd is more concerned with being near their favorite rappers and documenting the occasion on social media than enjoying the actual sound quality of the show.
If I had a nickel for every time I saw a 21-and-under crowd lose their shit to an artist lazily providing punchlines and ad libs while their backing vocals did the majority of the work, I’d have all the money back that I want from those artists for wasting my time. I truly believe this lack of standards comes from a lack of knowledge, though, and if these kids saw someone like Oddisee or Talib Kweli perform live, they’d storm the Twitter and Instagram accounts of the countless SoundCloud rappers that have half-rapped all the way to the bank on their dime.
In an era where tour revenue is accounting for a larger part of an artist’s financial pie chart than ever before, it’s a shame that such a large number of performers still don’t see the point in putting any real effort into their show aside from jumping and throwing water when the bass drops.
I, for one, am much more willing to support an artist monetarily when I see that they care about engaging the audience in their performance, and I hope that standard returns to hip-hop.