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(Above: The mini-movie for “Our Deal,” the latest song from Best Coast.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

The big names at the top of the bill will draw the most fans, but sometimes the best performances are from lesser-known acts early in the day. In the week leading up to the inaugural Kanrocksas music festival we’ll examine 10 overlooked acts. Earlier this week we looked at five acts from Friday’s lineup. Below are some great picks for Saturday.

Hearts of Darkness (Main Stage, 1:30 – 2 p.m.)

Kansas City’s worst-kept secret will kick off Saturday with deep Afro-beat grooves so hot the sun may be intimidated. With a five-piece horn section and multiple percussionists, the 18-member band has recently upstaged Snoop Dogg and made Huey Lewis and the News work a little harder. Hopefully it won’t be too long until Hearts of Darkness get the later stage time they deserve.

Making Movies (INK Unplugged Stage, 3:30 – 4 p.m.)

Making Movies took their name from the Dire Straits, but their sound is closer to Los Lobos. And just like Los Lobos, Making Moviesconcerts are likely to skip all over the place, with a salsa cover running into a Modest Mouse song. They will bring a much-needed world music presence to the lineup.

Best Coast (Stagesaurus Rex, 3:40 – 4:20 p.m.)

As their iTunes sessions EP proves, Best Coast have a lot more muscle onstage than their dreamy, lo-fi indie pop recordings imply. That’s good because they’ll have a massive space to fill Saturday afternoon. Singer/songwriter Bethany Cosentino has great songwriting chops. Now we’ll see how her song translate over several sunny acres.

Girl Talk (Main Stage, 8:30 – 9:35 p.m.)

Mash-up king Greg Gillis is the king of plucking a song’s apex and pairing it with another seemingly disparate crescendo to create a nonstop party. By stealing a few pages from the Flaming Lips play book and spraying the crowd with confetti and letting fans party onstage, Gillis is the rare DJ that is as fun to watch as he is to listen to.

Soundtribe Sector 9 (Critical Mass tent, 11:15 p.m. – 1 a.m.)

The world of jam bands is an admittedly crowded and homogenous terrain, but STS9 manage to stand out by combining heavy electronic and psychedelic elements to the standard open-ended, improvisational fare. After withstanding two days and 24 hours of steady live music, zoning out and riding the STS9 wave may be the best way to end the festival.

Look for more Kanrocksas coverage next week on The Daily Record.

Keep reading:

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 1 – Friday)

Review: Snoop Dogg with Hearts of Darkness

Review: Girl Talk

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 (Above: Hearts of Darkness are one of the biggest bands in Kansas City and a tough act to follow.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

As a live entertainment, hip hop has a bad rap (sorry). The genre’s main criticism – no one’s actually playing instruments – becomes especially acute onstage. While great MCs can deliver a stirring performance backed only by a DJ, the two-turntables-and-a-microphone set-up is the hip hop equivalent of going unplugged. The safety nets are removed and the MC’s skills (or lack thereof) are on full display.

Although he has brought a live band the past several times he’s come to Kansas City, Snoop Dogg decided to forgo live instrumentation for his performance Tuesday night at Crossroads KC. Backed by a DJ, trio of dancers, two hype men and three gentlemen whose job it seemed was to hang out onstage, Snoop delivered lethargic readings of his most celebrated hits.

Ironically, Snoop undermined his set by making fans wait more than an hour by listening to a playlist from his catalog. The rap stars belated appearance seemed almost superfluous in context. After listening to pre-recorded versions of his music for so long, having authentic vocals over more pre-recorded tracks didn’t seem that special anymore.

Stage problems also hampered the evening. During the first song, “I Wanna Rock,” the lighting rig gradually started lowering in front of the stage. Unfazed, Snoop and his ensemble continued to perform, nearly obscured. When it happened a second time, however, Snoop stopped the show and addressed the stage manager.

“Why does this (stuff) always happen when Snoop Dogg come on?” he asked.

A spate of hits, including “P.I.M.P.” and “Gin and Juice” got the crowd dancing, but the performance seemed like high-spectacle karaoke or an infomercial with a great chorus. With his DJ doing nothing more than cuing backing tracks and shouting over the songs, Snoop would have been better served dumping the entourage and hiring a live rhythm section to breathe some life into the numbers. Although the crowd responded enthusiastically, the result was nothing that couldn’t be easily found at any of the city’s best hip hop dance clubs.

Opening act Hearts of Darkness didn’t do Snoop any favors. The 70-minute set by the local Afro-beat ensemble may have carried on too long for casual fans, but the interplay between the group’s large horn section and several percussionists kept the crowd dancing despite the withering heat. A cover of Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” blended well with the 15-piece band’s original material.

A half hour into Snoop’s set – and more than three hours after Hearts of Darkness took the stage – I succumbed to the weather and the hour and headed for home. The decision may sniff of Old Man Syndrome, but it turned out to be the right call: Snoop himself called it a night less than 30 minutes later.

The high point of the Doggfather’s set was watching the teenagers outside the venue, dance and party on dumpsters across the street so they could see over the fence and watch the rap celebrity. The group was having so much fun they even got a shout-out from the stage. But it’s hard to feel shortchanged when you haven’t paid anything in the first place.

Keep reading:
Review: Snoop Dogg with Method Man and Redman
A Black Friday blowout
Review: Lupe Fiasco 

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(Above: The title says it all: “Professor Griff drops knowledge.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Onstage, Professor Griff, minister of information for the veteran rap group Public Enemy, rarely smiles. Griff rarely takes center stage, but sets the tone of the show by marshalling the S1Ws, Public Enemy’s uniformed faux-security force, through their militant dance steps.

Offstage, Griff may not be mistaken for Flavor Flav, the group’s much-lampooned comedic foil-turned-reality TV star, but he is far from the grim-faced drill sergeant he appears. In fact, right now he is laughing.

“At first, I was DJ Griff,” the founding member says through a chuckle. “I laugh because people don’t see me like that. Then it morphed into minister of information, because I was always studious. I took it upon myself to be an avid reader and study. That’s how I got the name Professor.”

Griff, nee Richard Griffin, describes the early days of Public Enemy and discusses his political views and philosophies in his new book, “Analytixz.”

“Readers already know the media’s version of who Griff is. This lets me tell aspects of my story without writing an autobiography,” Griff says. “The ugly truth and the controversies are there. I don’t like it, but I can’t write it with a pink cover and make everything cute.”

The lengthy first chapter covers the most controversial part of Griff’s career, when he was kicked out of Public Enemy for being quoted making anti-Semitic statements in the Washington Times.

“The first chapter was the most difficult,” Griff says. “It was the only time I had to stop tape, because it brought back a time I didn’t want to re-experience.”

Although that rough experience is the lynchpin of the book, another hardship brought the manuscript to fruition.

“’Analytixz’ came together in 90 days because I lost the other three books I was working on when my house burnt to the ground,” Griff says. “It comes from a place of hurt and pain, but I wanted to fulfill my promise to put out a book.”

Griff laughs again remembering how Run-DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay and Def Jam label co-founder Rick Rubin’s original plan for Public Enemy.

“When Jam Master Jay saw (Public Enemy MC) Chuck (D) at Adelphi University, he and Rick Rubin wanted to sign him as Chuckie D,” Griff says through a snicker. “Chuck and I are still laughing about that one. Basically, Chuck brought Flav along, and everyone else came from me.”

“Everyone else” is the groundbreaking production unit known as the Bomb Squad and the group’s DJ, Terminator X.

“Members of the Bomb Squad had a group called Spectrum City, which included me,” Griff says. “We brought Chuck on board to be part of our mobile DJ unit.”

Public Enemy is nearing its 25th anniversary, but Griff, Chuck and company are still intent on bringing the noise. After leaving Def Jam, the band is financing their new album through SellABand. By purchasing $25 shares, fans can help the band reach its goal of $250,000 and get everything from a mention in the liner notes, to profit sharing and input on the final product.

“It’s interesting to see how things are unfolding,” Griff says. “People say, Public Enemy, you guys were popular, it should be no problem to raise that money, but they’re on the outside of it.”

While many rap acts from the ‘80s are dismissed as old school, Public Enemy has worked hard to stay at the vanguard. The band pioneered the digital distribution model with their album “There’s A Poison Goin’ On” 10 years ago, and introduced a play-listed based album on 2002’s “Revolverution.”

“Me and Chuck are 49,” Griff says of his bandmate, who was born on the same day in the same hospital. “It’s not over. We still have to put our period at the end of the sentence.”

What’s on Griff’s iPod?

“If I lent you my iPod for one day, you’d probably say ‘What the hell?’ The first thing you’d notice is I have a large music collection – easy listening, rock, soulful stuff. When it comes to my hip hop playlist, you’ll see Rage Against the Machine, the Roots, Immortal Technique, Wize Intelligent, Dead Prez, KRS-One – because I’m still learning from him – and the new Can-I-Bus. There’s no Nelly, no Snoop Dogg and nothing produced by Jermaine Dupri.

“The most surprising thing on my iPod is (long pause) Asher Roth, which is on there probably because me and my son share a computer. I play that song when people come in the car with me and they say, Griff, what do you know about a white Jewish boy? I listen to everything, man.”

Keep Reading:

Review: Public Enemy, Rage, the Roots and more at Rock the Bells (2007)

Review: The Roots (2008)

More Hip Hop on The Daily Record

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 (Above: Snoop Dogg performs a medley of old hits on Nov. 6 at Harrah’s Voodoo Lounge in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
The revue that brought rappers Snoop Dogg, Method Man and Redman to the Voodoo Lounge on Friday was called the “Wonderland High School Tour.” The promoters should have inserted the word “reunion.”

Hip-hop has turned the corner as a genre. Its former disposable nature and willingness to discard any artist who dared to fall behind a trend, regardless of their past successes, has shifted to establishing legacy artists.

Despite releasing new –- and very good –- material, the three artists were more than happy to trade on their old numbers for most of the evening’s performances.

The sold-out crowd couldn’t have been happier.

After opening with a trio of cuts from his new album-length collaboration with Redman, “Blackout! 2,” including the excellent singles “A-Yo” and “City Lights,” sometime Wu-Tang Clan MC Method Man announced his intentions.

“We want to take this back to when hip-hop was good,” he declared, before launching into Redman’s 1992 song “Time 4 Sum Aksion.” That was followed by Meth’s signature song, the 1993 Wu-Tang classic “Method Man.”

A couple hours later, Snoop Dogg echoed the sentiment. Asking the crowd who came to hear the “classic stuff,” he beamed when the audience erupted in screams.

Snoop opened his 80-minute set with “The Next Episode.” The five-piece backing band added muscle and intensity to Dr. Dre’s nimble arrangements. The hits “P.I.M.P.,” originally recorded with 50 Cent in 2003, and 1993’s breakthrough “Gin and Juice” followed, sending the audience into ecstasy.

Snoop was so enamored with his early ‘90s, Death Row heyday he brought out Lady of Rage to deliver her part on a song from “Doggystyle,” Snoop’s debut album, and her one hit, “Afro-Puffs.”

Rage has been missing in action for better than a decade, but everyone sang along to her hit like Newt Gingrich had just announced the Contract with America. Snoop was all smiles, slinking around the stage and working the crowd as Rage took the spotlight.

The Death Row glory days connection was reinforced when Snoop paid tribute to 2Pac with a performance of “Hail Mary.”

There were some concessions to newer material. “Riding in My Chevy” was well received, but the magnificent “Drop It Like It’s Hot” was tethered to a cover of House of Pain’s 1992 hit “Jump Around.” Why did Snoop feel he needed to attach his song to a one-hit wonder? Also a mystery is why Snoop chose to ignore his upcoming album except for a quick plug at the end of the set.

At any rate, “Hot” was the finest musical moment of the night. The full band fleshed out the bare-bones album arrangement, adding deeper bass and bigger bass. The performance gradually built in intensity until both band and crowd alike were flat-out rocking.

The biggest problem with Snoop’s set was his over-reliance on back-up MCs Kurupt and Daz Dillinger. Their solo turns took time away from other song Snoop could have performed and their backing role was the equivalent of Garrett Morris delivering the news for the hearing impaired on Saturday Night Live.

A medley of “Deep Cover,” “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” and “B— Please” went off like a flash pot. A delirious crowd devoured every beat, recited every syllable and danced furiously. It was the hip hop equivalent of “Jump” or even “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Snoop closed with another crowd-pleaser: “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)”

Snoop’s laid-back delivery and contentment to stroll and swagger across the stage stood in contrast to the kinetic energy of Method Man and Redman. The pair barely stood still throughout their hour-long set, delivery Wu-Tang favorites, solo cuts like “Bring the Pain” and “You’re All I Need To Get By” and the obligatory tribute to deceased Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

The duo was backed by frequent Wu-Tang producer Mathematics and DJ Nice and scored points with the pro-cannabis crowd by performing weed anthems “How High” and “Part II.” Marijuana was a reoccurring theme of the night. A pair of sheriffs camped on either side of the club entrance and the beginning of the night and a lingering presence later in the night quashed many would-be smokers. The dense clouds produced by the overhead smoke machines created enough cover for the rest.

The evening kicked off promptly at 8 p.m. with the only performer who wasn’t tied to the 1990s. Devin the Dude provided an hour of rhymes about women and weed. His base lyrics and laconic delivery found many fans in the crowd but were no match for what followed.

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