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(Above: Thievery Corporation gets the whole room jumping by firing “Warning Shots.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Dance ensemble Thievery Corporation took fans around the world and through its considerable catalog during its inaugural performance in Kansas City on Wednesday night at the Midland.

Although Thievery Corporation functions as a duo in the studio, onstage CEOs Rob Garza (turntables and keyboards) and Eric Hilton (guitar) expanded the board to include a horn section, a full rhythm section and a division of vocalists. Boston MC Mr. Lif brought a hard energy to “Culture of Fear” while mid-Atlantic Rastafarians Ras Puma and Sleepy Wonder imported Jamaican riddims and patois to “Overstand” and “Amerimacka.” Nearly every singer was onstage jumping around during the powerful “Warning Shots.”Many of the best moments, however, belonged to the women. “Garden State” soundtrack staple “Lebanese Blonde” featured Natalia Clavier’s silver tongue paired with Hilton’s sitar. French singer LouLou delivered a spellbinding “La Femme Parallel” in her native tongue. LouLou also was featured in the most organic moment of the night, when Hilton and Garza strapped on six-strings for the ballad “Sweet Tides.”Despite the globetrotting nature of the night, many of the songs featured similar downtempo beats and relied on textures to keep them fresh. As the band moved through trance, bossa nova and dub, detours into reggae, hip-hop and dancehall were welcome. “Vampires,” an anti-International Money Fund screed set to Afro-Beat, was especially energetic. I’m not sure whether the political message got through, but it was hard to find anyone not dancing.

The small crowd fit comfortably on the first three tiers of the Midland floor. The engaged crowd made the most of the ample space, letting the music inspire large, sweeping dances with plenty of room to move around. With no backdrop and a basic light show, Thievery Corporation relied on its music to inspire the audience, and it definitely worked. The constant movements seemed to close in the cavernous room and make it feel more full and energetic.

With the band and audience in complete simpatico, it seemed a little soon when the musicians called it a night after nearly two hours. It felt as though the spell could have lasted all night, especially given how long many fans had waited. It took 15 years and seven albums for the band to finally find Kansas City. Hopefully it won’t take that long for it to come back.

Setlist: “Web of Deception,” “Lebanese Blonde,” “Sol Tapado,” “Take My Soul,” “Liberation Front,” “Culture of Fear,” “Overstand,” “Radio Retaliation,” “Illumination,” “All That We Perceive,” “La Femme Parallel,” “Amerimacka,” “Vampires,” “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter,” “Unified Tribes,” “Assault on Babylon,” “Warning Shots.” Encore: “Sweet Tides,” “The Richest Man in Babylon,” “Coming from the Top.”

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(Above: If you want to hang with Mos Def, Eminem and Black Thought, you’d be advised to do your homework first.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Two of the most common criticism of hip hop are, one, it’s not music and, two, anyone can do it. While the first complaint is purely subjective, it would be difficult to think anyone could agree with the second conclusion after reading “How To Rap.”

Drawing on interviews with more than 100 MCs, Paul Edwards has assembled a comprehensive primer for aspiring microphone magicians. Incredibly concise, Edwards and his subjects cover nearly every conceivable topic, including rhyme schemes, recording and performing, in 340 pages.

A diverse palette of interviewees matches the range of topics. Edwards culls insight from conscious rappers like Gift of Gab, underground MCs such as Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif and gangsta rappers like the Clipse. Legends Phife Dawg and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane and Kool Moe Dee (who also provides the introduction), also lend insight. Local music fans will be delighted to read TechN9ne’s contributions.

At first glance, the text seems obvious. Much of the first section on content and styles should already be familiar to anyone with an interest deep enough in hip hop to pick up this book. Once the overview is out of the way, however, the book offers fascinating insight.

The flow diagram demonstrates how MCs line up their lyrics against the beats. The product is surprisingly similar to traditional notation and demonstrates how much forethought is put into delivery. This complexity is reinforced in the chapter explaining different styles of rhyming, rhyme schemes and placement. The pattern diagram ties these concepts together, allowing lyricists to illustrate how the syllables fall in their lyrics, pointing out repetitive patterns or other accidental traps.

Edwards stays out of the way, letting the artists break down each step in their own way. Not only does the reader learn this information firsthand, but receives several different perspectives on the process. Most of the time this format serves well, but sometimes Edwards’ narrative is repetitive. He frequently sets up a topic, only to have the first quote echo that statement. Edwards does a good job of editing the quotes, pruning the “you know what I mean” while maintaining each performer’s voice.

While a lot of the biggest names dropped frequently dropped among the pages – particularly Eminem and Dr. Dre – are absent, several of their collaborators, such as Lady of Rage, Devin the Dude and Royce da 5’9”, are able to provide insight in the missing legends’ creative process.

“How To Rap” lives up to its title, providing a meaty background on all facets of the vocal side of hip hop, while being slim enough to be stuck in a back pocket or jacket as the MC embarks upon the journey. Call hip hop what you like, but there’s no doubt it takes a talented person to do it well. Edwards’ book should arm the aspiring with the necessary tools for the scene.

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