Friday, May 26, 2006

Lupe Fiasco live in SF

Lupe Fiasco crammed five months of buzz into a five-song, 25 minute set in San Francisco on Thursday night. It was engaging, sometimes exciting, but all too an abrupt ending.

The Chicago MC, who is either a Kanye West protege or hired gun, depending on how you look at it, has endeared himself to a cross section of hip-hop fans due to his chameleon-esque persona: a nerd/skater/street/lyrical MC, marketed just in time to be a boon for the generation.

He stole the show on West's second single, "Testify," and the first single from his album, a catchy ditty called "Kick, Push," has slowly caught on with both taste maker hip-hop snobs and BET-watching teeny boppers, all enthralled with his understated cool and straightforward approach.

And so on Thursday night, performing at Mezzanine in front of a packed house, Lupe did what all good stars in the making do: he left the crowd wanting more, lots more.

The night was hosted by some guy named Ant Marshall, who purported to be co-founder of the Lyricist Lounge in NYC (I'll have to google his name later on to get all the facts). The opening acts were locals trying to establish themselves, probably performing their biggest gigs in their short careers that night.

Prophet was a pretty cool SF emcee with a sorta sing-songy flow (more straining that harmonizing, but still carrying a note here and there). His DJ Dozier (hope I'm spelling that right) had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the mixer, and was openly ecstatic when he finally got it going. The fun in watching locals open up for bigger name artists is in seeing those moments unfold, when an artists humanity shows through for a quick second.

Elemnop, a four-mc, two-dj crew, got the party heated. These guys, who appeared to be predominantly Asian/Filipino, rocked a breathless set, with songs running into one another. They never missed a beat, and apparently brought out a large contingent of followers with them to celebrate. These guys could be worth watching over the next year or so (check their Web site,

Lupe came out to the beat from Nas' "Thief's Theme," looking really skinny and scholarly. Rocking Ben Franklin bifocals and a white LRG t-shirt, Lupe treated his set like a 40-yard dash, with barely a moment to catch your breath.

The opening freestyle was followed by his verse from "Blood Diamonds," the West-jacking mixtape song that supposedly inspired Kanye to record "Diamonds are Forever" remix. That remix included lyrics about the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone.

Lupe quickly jumped into his big hit, "Testify," milking his 16-bar verse and the chorus for all it's worth. It worked, as the crowd seemed to jump up in jubilation at the Curtis Mayfield-sampled horns. One dude charged through the crowd screaming, cutting through me and my homeboy in an odd moment. A few minutes later, that same dude staggered through the crowd. I reasoned to my buddy that the guy was probably some sort of crowd plant hired by Lupe to perform such theatrics.

Lupe stood triumphant after that song, and declared "They say hip-hop is coming back, y'all!" As if he were the one that was responsible for such an insurgence. The audacity. I'd call it swagger jacking, but he's co-signed by Jay-Z (who is executive producing his album), so Hov probably requires such confidence in his artists.

A high-speed song whose title seemed to be "ERRRNNNGGHHHH" — mimicking the sound of an engine on a race car passing by— was next. It was appropriate in the muscle car-loving Bay Area. But mid-song, he flipped into a Chi-town bounce track, slowing down the lyrics but not the intensity.

And then came the show-stopping "Kick,Push," which was literally, a stop to the show. Lupe insisted on dropping then re-dropping the intro horns four times. Four Times! Talk about getting the most out of your music. Luckily, he had enough quiet charisma to keep it going each time he "pon da replayed" the beat. A lesser artist might have dropped the crowd momentum, which was considerable.

After doing the song and the "Kick,Push" dance routine (which consisted of a simulated skateboard kick to the floor in time with the beat), Lupe made like he was going to do "ERRRNNNGGHHH" again, then decided to cut out. No explanation, barely a word of thanks to the crowd, and the DJ Apollo (local legend who also ripped it that night) came out to spin some more, thus leaving no chance for an encore.

It was short, sweet and to the point. Which leads me to believe that this guy could very well be that dude once his album drops in the summer.

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