Saturday was a big concert day for me, and I only went to one actual show. After seeing Brother Ali and Rapsody kill it, I went home, flipped open the laptop and voilà, live Coachella stream. I caught the end of the Outkast set, which, included a surprisingly lackluster crowd, a jumbled, awkward ending, and an apology from 3 Stacks; all good after a million year break, I would expect some rust (but that is another article).
Not the best set to catch, but luckily, Nas was up next to erase any bad taste left in my mouth, but really I ended up thinking more about Nas' set than Outkast's. Unfortunately, it wasn't because of something good (at least I think it's bad). For the next day and a half, I have been flip-flopping on how I feel about it and the only way to come to a final decision is to write it out and work through all my issues. The problem? Nas used a teleprompter.
Man, Nas was fucking killin' it. I was really into the performance. After 20 years you might think the energy would be a little "meh" but Nas really came with it. So much in fact, that I didn't notice the teleprompter (which makes its appearance at the 2:15 mark) until about half-way through. Listen, I love Nas, hence why I was up way past my bedtime to watch his set, but after I saw the teleprompter I sort of checked out; it was all I could think about, and because i have a serious problem, it has been all I could think about sense.
On the one hand, who the fuck cares?! I mean Illmatic is twenty years old, and Nas has an extensive discography so I can't really expect him to remember each and every song right? So he may have to look down at the lyrics occasionally, clearly, it didn't stop him from killin' it up there, plus he brought out Jay Z! 13 years after Ether and now two of New York's best are sharing the stage, how could I ask for anything else? Most importantly, the fact that Nas is playing is enough alone (or at least it should be). Just thinking about all those kids there who are busy taking selfies at the One Direction set who got introduced to a legend, and one of the most important albums in hip-hop puts a smile on my face. So why the fuck can't I get over the fucking teleprompter?
When it comes to live music, I am a total snob. I hate going to shows on Fridays and Saturdays because usually, the crowd is full of disinterested, disrespectful assholes who are only there because a friend wanted to go and are more interested in getting drunk and talking than listening to the artist. You wouldn't talk at a play or when a stand-up comedian is giving his set, so why is it ok for you to do so at a concert? It's disrespectful to the person on stage who is giving there all to put on a good show. They might not be able to hear you but I can. I also hate when rappers rap over a track (I came to hear you live, not your CD played really loud) and bring a million people on stage. The point is when I am at a live show, I have certain expectations and maybe they are too high, but the same feeling I get when a rapper has his own voice playing in the back is the same one I got with the teleprompter. Live shows rarely if ever go on without a hitch. You can't expect a live show to be perfect, but you could at least try.
Honestly, I'd rather see the performer at least try. I have much more respect for the artist who screws up a line but is trying than the one who has track playing to prevent a screwup and I think the same logic applies here. Outkast wasn't perfect, they acknowledged it, did their best, and will improve. I almost feel cheated by Nas; it took away from the "live" aspect, where anything could happen. He is such a well-respected, important emcee, I'd rather see him do it the way it's supposed to be done and screw up than hear him give a flawless performance with a teleprompter I'm sure nobody there noticed, but at home, I lost interest after I saw the teleprompter, and that is the worst thing that can happen to an artist on stage. Instead of listening to him rap, I kept focusing on his eyes to see when and if he was reading. Nas has been performing these songs for 20 years, you would think that, by now, he has 'em down pat (I sure have a few of 'em memorized so you think he would too) if not, why not study them in advance? You know you have this show coming up, wouldn't it make sense? Brother Ali's encore was him taking suggestions from the crowd and rapping those versus acapella. To go from that to seeing Nas rhyme with a teleprompter really put it into perspective. Nas is one of the greats, so I would expect him to rock the stage as such; and that as such, does not include a teleprompter.
I don't want to be bothered by this, I really don't--the last thing I want to do is speak ill of Nas--but this hasn't sat well with me all weekend and if I am still thinking about it, it must mean I disapprove. Maybe I am making a bigger deal of this than I should, but as a rap nerd (and a writer I guess) that's kind of my job. The stage is the most sacred of spaces, it's where we separate the men from the boys, and to see one of my favorite and beloved emcees use a tool that belongs with the latter is a little disheartening. I'm sure many of you don;t care (and well tell me so) but I have to stick to my guns here and say it bothered me. It doesn't make me think any less of him, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I gave him a pass based on who he was, I would be going against everything he taught me. Now cue the Anchorman clip...you had to know it was coming right?
How do you feel about it, RefinedHype Nation?