The following is a list of rap concerts I’ve seen:
- Atmosphere (at Lollapalooza)
- Cypress Hill (at Lollapalooza)
- Snoop Dogg (at that traveling festival that involved Korn, Linkin Park, and another word that had a K where there should have been a C)
The following is a list of rap acts I listen to on a regular basis:
- The Beastie Boys
Suffice to say that I am not a Rap Guy. In fact, I’m far enough from being a Rap Guy that I remain unsure whether I should call it rap or hip-hop.*
*I maintain that hip-hop brings to mind, like, Kid ‘N Play and Another Bad Creation. The term “rap” carries an appealing edginess and/or legitimacy that I associate with, oh, NWA, Nas, and Slick Rick. But then again, I’m out of my element here.
That’s not to say that I don’t like rap, or even that I don’t like listening to rap; it’s just that while current Rap Guys were listening to De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, I was listening to Smashing Pumpkins and Third Eye Blind.
It was with such a background that I recently attended my first-ever rap-only concert at the Troubadour in Hollywood. Doomtree, the rap collective that headlined the show and that I will continue to call a rap collective only because everyone who writes about them calls them a rap collective, and I would feel sheepish calling them something so pedestrian as a “rap group”…anyway, Doomtree consists of two white DJs, two white male rappers, one white female rapper (okay, fine, “MC”), a black MC, and a possibly-Hispanic MC.
I bring up the race of Doomtree’s members because, whether we like it or not, their race is probably important to Doomtree’s story. Doomtree is from Minneapolis and it seems unlikely that they would be darlings of the alt-indie scene if they were all black and from, say, Houston.
But, while probably important to Doomtree’s story, race isn’t important to this story. What’s important to this story is my impression of Doomtree’s show. (“Important” being a relative term.)
My rap noobishness could be viewed as an impediment to my capacity to judge a rap show, but I prefer to think of it as an asset. I had no preconceived notions about what I was going to see, so I could, theoretically, have been equipped to provide the most objective review of a concert in the history of concert reviews.**
**I wasn’t, but such condition is fun to imagine. For me, anyway.
I should note, on the preconceived notions front, that I am not without some preconceived notions about rap music. While not a Rap Guy, I am an Album Guy. In my experience, Rap Guys and Album Guys are unlikely to be found kibitzing over the Trader Joe’s hummus at the company Super Bowl party. When stretched over twelve or thirteen (or eighteen, when the Intros and Outros and skits are included) songs, rap albums begin to feel, at best, watered-down and, at worst, as dull as a televised staring contest.
Of the rap albums that I own and listen to on occasion (by Outkast, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, oh holy god I couldn’t be more from a white, middle-class upbringing), very few can keep me listening throughout. (Man On The Moon I excepted.)
This notion was reinforced by Doomtree’s opener, El-Mex. Three songs and my eyes were bouncing around the room like a teenager raised by an Xbox, Mountain Dew and a prescription for Adderall. This, though, could have been due to the numerical disadvantage with which El-Mex was working; El-Mex has only two members.
As discussed above, numerical issues wouldn’t, be a problem for Doomtree. And when Doomtree’s resident beatmaker, Lazerbeak, came on, I realized that the potential problem caused by a lack of the instrumentation to which I am accustomed at rock shows had been solved as well. Lazerbeak did ten minutes on his own – just his fingers and a drum machine. At the end of his mini-set, I decided that I could have listened to him for at least another twenty.
When the rest of Doomtree hopped onto the stage, their ostensible leader (whose name is Cecil and who was dressed like most of the dudes who live in Williamsburg) asked the audience if it was ready for a two-hour rap party.
We were, we called. The only problem: Doomtree isn’t ready to provide a two-hour rap party.
Late in the show, I turned to my friend Justin and said, “We’re either watching the Rolling Stones or Snow.” As in, Twelve Inches Of Snow…Snow. That statement of mine was hyperbolic, but the contrast wasn’t. The two hours that had been promised to be a rap party oscillated between being just that – there were times when I was mesmerized by what was happening on stage – and whatever the opposite of that is. (A two-hour game of bridge, perhaps?)
My opinion of the night followed the show’s sine wave. Sometimes: STUPENDOUS! Other times: I’ll be in the back, cringing and wondering why this girl with the cool hair is here with two guys wearing flat-brimmed San Francisco Giants hats.
My takeaway from the evening was that I need to go to more rap shows; I enjoyed myself at least half of the time I was watching Doomtree, and that’s far more than can be said for most experiences in life. (The last time I slept with a girl, for example, I enjoyed myself for approximately 8% of the time I was there.)
But if I were to give Doomtree the sort of unsolicited, from-the-hip, and probably worthless advice in which they have very little interest, it would be this: from now on, under-promise and over-deliver. Instead of a two-hour rap party, aim for (and predict) a one-hour rap party. Cut out some of the clunkers (of which there were plenty) and concentrate on the songs that work (of which there were also plenty).
The upside to doing so is big; the investment: negligible. All it took to make me buy everything the Beastie Boys ever recorded was one music video involving undercover police officers in the 1970s.
You’ve got loads of talent, but remember: most of your audience is going to be like me – not Rap People, because most people aren’t Rap People.
And the only way to get us on your side is to leave us wanting more, not less.
For more from Paul…