From March 19, 2007: A night at the Clipse concert

On the John presents…

A night at the Clipse concert

Originally completed March 19, 2007

They got it for cheap.
They got it for cheap.

My first clue that the Clipse concert at the Metro in early March would not feature the same levels of universal camaraderie as per a sporting event came while standing outside the show, lined up along a brick wall for 28 minutes in 24-degree weather. An older, self-assured black man with determined eyes began walking up and down the block telling the guys to step to the right and the ladies to the left, thus forming two separate lines. At first I agreed with this order, thinking it was only for purposes of moving through security, but soon after it became clear that the ratio of guys to girls was about 8 to 1, and so the girls were all pretty much going right in.

We’d been in line for about ten minutes at this point, and much to our disappointment, the removal of the women had moved us up just enough to get ahead of the end of the wall we’d been huddled next to, meaning we were now at the opening of an alley, meaning the wind was now blowing on us from both sides. Ben, Dustin, and I threw the hoods on our BAPE hoodies atop our heads, the three of us bouncing on the soles of our feet as we blew on our hands, pretending not to be cold. This was not fun…

…and it was at this time when the bald-headed, older, white gentleman in front of me turned and said “It looks like there are a lot more guys who like Clipse than girls.” Innocent enough, but for some reason I found myself not wanting to agree with this man. Not that I actually didn’t agree with him—he was obviously correct—but something about the circumstances of going to this show and being considered a part of this particular collection of people was making me a bit guarded. Did I really want to agree with him? Because when you think about it, it’s not a statement that requires agreement in the traditional sense. It’s a statement of obvious fact. It is beyond clear. Had he said something with a bit more bend, like “The Godfather is hands-down the funniest film of the past forty years” or “Geese were probably entirely responsible for 9/11,” perhaps I would have engaged him.

But by agreeing with him on a statement of obvious fact, I was essentially aligning myself with him. We would be transformed from two separate Clipse fans into a United Duo, and I was not ready for that union.

I cannot imagine this happening at a sporting event. Before the Bears-Eagles playoff game in January of 2002, my friends and I waited outside of our gate in a deep cold, pressed into a thick crowd. Not only did we talk to these guys, we joked with them, we hung with them, we sang with them, ripping up Bear Down as the ushers ripped our tickets.

Not so with this group, which did not look like the typical hip-hop crowd. In the name of full and fair disclosure, I should say that this was my first rap show, and perhaps it is safe to assume that one cannot get an accurate sense of what that might be like when attending a show in Wrigleyville. Still, it was what it was, and being sunk into this audience was a bit off-putting.

It was no Bears game. That was for sure. When you show up to a Bears game, everybody there is decked out in Bears gear. Our backgrounds become irrelevant; all that matters is that we are all connected by our love for the Bears. But as we waited in the cold to enter this event, our different backgrounds were not simply on display; they stood out. The crowd was predominantly white—again, Wrigleyville—with a good number of blacks, a fair number of Hispanics, and a few Asians sprinkled in.

But among those groups, things broke down even further. If anything, the audience for that show was proof of the ignorance of a person who makes all-encompassing statements like “ I don’t like ________ people.” Sure it was mostly whites, but there were hip-hop whites and emo whites and grunge whites. There were little white high-schoolers who appeared to be thrilled with the idea of being at a show late night In The City, and there were older, hippie whites who looked like they were off to Woodstock ’07. I saw one white guy there who was abundantly gay, a tall, thin man in a suede trench coat with a very thin and well-groomed beard cradling a cigarette between his fingers and then in his lips. I would not have, in a million years, guessed that this man would be spending his Friday night listening to “Mr. Me Too” and “Grindin’.”

As we made progress moving forward, security was still reminding the women that they could walk to the front, only now they weren’t making any effort to code it in the name of “security checks.”

“You don’t have to wait out here in the cold with these guys,” the security guards would say. “Come on in where it’s warm.”

The way they addressed the genders could not have been more different, with females being padded like movie stars and males being herded like cattle: “Ladies, ladies, please step to the left. Yes, feel free to walk right up—FELLAS! You need to be moving over. Come on now! Move over! We can’t have you guys all walking all over the place like that. Stay on the wall!—Yes, yes, right this way ladies. Don’t want you freezing out here…”

And naturally, the women went ahead, even when that meant leaving their fellas behind. “We’ll meet you in there,” their words fading as they shuffled off. “We’ll get you a drink…” And in they went, as their fellas waited in the cold.

Finally we got to the door. I was on the phone trying to connect with my brother and his roommates, my brother continually claiming that they were “almost there.” Perhaps they were thinking that Ben, Dustin and I would wait in line for them, but by the look of the scene up front, that was most definitely not going to work. A pair of high school kids were pleading with the bouncers to let them in with their friends, claiming to have already been in, and after arguing with the bouncers for upwards of 40 seconds, they got the good sense to simply show the stamps on their hands.

Another pair of high schoolers who showed up late were not as fortunate or prepared; thinking they’d be able to let their friends wait in line for them despite the fact that neither had breasts, the two young gentlemen were greatly disappointed. They tried to act defiant, as if a great injustice had been done…and though I did not sympathize, it was difficult not to feel just a wee bit bad as they watched chick upon chick march right through without so much as a pat down. “I mean, we paid for our tickets,” they explained feebly to their friends who had stood in line. “It’s not like we’re not going to go in.” Then they looked again at the long line they would have to endure in order to enter, and they frowned and sloped off to the side, hoping desperately for some kind of loophole. Alas, I do not know if they ever made it in, because as they pouted Ben, Dustin and I walked through. Finally, we would get to see Clipse…

…but that was a foolish sentiment, as I knew that we would still have to slosh our way through the openers. I held out some hope that they would be enjoyable, especially when we saw the name “LOW B” on the marquee and Ben and Dustin perked up considerably, as if the cold were no longer a factor. Unfortunately, Low B was M.I.A., and we were left instead with two acts that Dustin referred to later as “everything I can’t stand about hip-hop.” It was difficult to argue with him. Here is a man who, along with Ben, loves his rap, and while I always dug the mainstream stuff growing up—Dre, Snoop, Pac, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Tribe, Outkast, and the Beasties were hard to miss—I was not engulfed in it as fully as I am now. Beyond the normal cadre of hip-hop haters who dismiss the genre due to its “dark” nature—content and color included—there are hip-hop lovers who do not care for the lazy, stereotypical writing and production that have dominated the mainstream hip-hop scene since the late ’90s. (And yes, I blame Puffy for this.)

For me, it’s never been about subject matter, but rather about presentation. People deride hip-hop for being nihilistic and materialistic, but the same can be said for GoodFellas, a flick that most film critics regard as an American classic. Was Ready to Die a nihilistic or materialistic record? Absolutely. Did it depict drug dealing, murder, hustling, pimping, and all of the other taboo subjects that blindly overarching rap critics condemn? You bet. But who gives a hoot about taboo when the music and Biggie’s lyrics are so damn good?

That’s what I dig about Clipse. There’s an authenticity there, a sense that Malice and Pusha T are rapping about what they know, not necessarily what they think will sell. They are lyricists, two guys who tell creative and memorable stories about the lives of drug dealers. As Malice spits on “Cot Damn,” a track off of their debut album “Lord Willin’”: “You mistook me for a rapper, huh/well that makes me an actor/cause I would rather clap a gun.”

And if he’s lying about that, then that makes him a damn good actor and a damn good writer. Music has always been held to a different standard than movies, because the author of the work is not filtering himself through actors and photography. And hip-hop has been held to an even harder standard than other genres due to the ever-flimsy concept of “realness.” Does it bother us to find that Martin Scorsese was never himself involved in the mafia? Does that make his films less “real”?

I have no reason to doubt that Pusha and Malice were both actually coke dealers, but the truth of real life does not matter in terms of their artistic authenticity. What matters is their art, their writing and their storytelling. Real life does not necessarily produce art that feels real. A lifetime dope dealer could cut the world’s lousiest dope dealing record, while a living saint could get into character and write the flyest dope record ever made. Good art that exudes an authentic “realness” does not come from the artist’s real life, but rather from the artist’s ability to inject a sense of “realness” into his art. Whether or not he is “lying” is irrelevant.

…and that brings us back to the two opening acts, both of which were infatuated with presenting an image of what hip-hop should be rather than simply making good music. The first was a duo act, a pair of rappers who spit nothing but clichés. These two were clowns. Beyond-baggy clothes, monstrous t-shirts, hats cocked, and of course the anchor-like chains that swung from their necks like a grandfather clock. They strutted around, grabbing at their crotches with an astounding regularity, which was less surprising when I considered that there was little chance that they could even locate their dicks inside of those huge pants.

The next act was essentially a hip-hop boy band, complete with five members and matching dance moves. But of course, it wasn’t actually dancing. It was more like coordinated, casual swaying. And they were all well-costumed: there was the guy in the white Bulls shirt and Detroit Tigers hat, the guy in the striped and collared shirt and black baseball hat, the fat guy who draped a towel over his bowling ball head, a guy in a touque who looked like the robot dancer from “Chappelle’s Show,” and the only guy whose head was bare. Both acts rapped about the standard material: hos, bling, guns, pimping, fucking, fighting. At least when Biggie dropped the line “money, hos and clothes/all a nigga knows,” it felt like he was saying exactly what was on his mind right then and there. These guys merely echoed those sentiments, and in the truest sense of the word echo: an empty, mindless repetition.

With the second act though, one got a sense that at least they were trying to present something worthwhile. They were excited about what they were doing, rather than simply being excited to be doing it…but even in their sincerity they presented a poor product, and it was clear that the crowd at the Metro was holding back. It was as if nobody wanted to commit fully to this group, to show that they were indeed “into” them. At one point down the stretch, the guy in the Bulls shirt and Tigers hat asked us if we “liked Tupac,” and if we did to “throw your ‘twos’ up” by putting two fingers in the air peace sign style. It’s a safe bet that most modern rap fans will say that they like Tupac, even if they only mean that they like the popular idea of Tupac. The fact that very few of us actually “threw up our twos” was probably due to our unwillingness to align ourselves with the hip-hop boy band on stage. It was like we were all back in middle school, and one of the dorky kids was throwing a birthday party, and even as the kid promoted the party and told us about the veritable circus that his parents had rented for the party, none of us actually wanted to commit, afraid that we would be the only person who actually showed up. That’s how we were with the opening acts: slightly aloof, very reserved.

Of course, once Clipse came out on stage, everything changed. If Pusha and Malice had told us to throw up our twos and then clarified by requesting two of our toes, boots and socks would have been flying off in record time. I mean, when those two cats took the stage, they TOOK the stage. They took the room, they took the crowd, they took everything within an earshot. When the bass line on “Mama I’m So Sorry” began to tick and the Thornton brothers began yelling “Miami Vice!” the entire crowd came together as one, galvanized by this hip-hop group we’d all come to see.

While their stage presence and authority were undeniable, there was a drawback to seeing Clipse live, but my guess is that it wasn’t so much a problem with Clipse as it was a problem with live hip-hop shows in general. Unless the Roots are backing you up, hip-hop production does not translate well to the settings of a live show. For this show, the backing DJ was standing in front of his MacBook, presumably playing tracks off his iTunes. He was also mixing the songs together, dropping the beat out here or there for dramatic purposes or joining in on his mic for the punchline of a lyric, but mostly what we heard was Malice and Pusha rapping live over their recorded voices and CD beats. This meant that at times, you could actually here their voices on the recording underneath their live voices. This was guaranteed to be at least a little bit distracting, but it was particularly annoying because Pusha and Malice’s voices sound different in concert than they do on CD. This discrepancy was probably partially due to the rigors of touring, but it seemed to be more because their normal laid-back vocal approach that ends up on their records was changed by the adrenaline of being on stage and rocking out with a bunch of fans cheering and rocking their heads. The little dips that Pusha’s voice takes on some lines (“In Virginia, we smirked at the Simpson trial/yeah, I guess the chase was wild/but what’s the fuss about?”) were almost lost. Also lost were the intricacies of the Neptunes’ beats, so the music ended up being a whole lot of booming bass with a synth or a horn sneaking out of obscurity from time to time.

Still, all in all, they put on a terrific show. The songs are great, and the brothers Thornton came at the material with the urgency, authority, and enthusiasm that made their albums a success to begin with. We were all bopping to “Virginia” when after many failed attempts, I finally connected with my brother and his two roommates.

“What took so long?”

“What??”

I lean in, getting my lips nearly into my brother’s eardrum as “Nightmares” bumps behind us. “What took so long?”

“We got here a while ago,” he said.

“How was the line?”

“Not bad,” he shouted at me. “Not as bad as you’d said. It was pretty well-thinned out when we got here. We walked in at ‘We Got it For Cheap.’”

“That was the second song they did.

His face turns to near gloating. “So all we missed were the openers. How were they?”

I laughed. “I’ll tell you later.”

The four of us are a close bunch, and as I was rather excited to be out with my brother, I decided that we should do a shot. Naturally, everything was priced way high, and though I initially refused based on principal, I relented, and slapped a twenty on the bar for vodka all the way around. Of course out of the fear of theft, we did not get actual shot glasses, relegated instead to wide-mouth plastic juice cups. No good for our purposes, because the wide-mouth knocks back the odds of a clean shot-taking, but it was too late for that. Our “glasses” up for a toast, we clicked and then threw them back, the booze dripping down the side of my lips as I’d taken mine a bit on the slow due to the harsh taste. I’d forgotten how strong vodka is, and I coughed a bit and wiped my mouth, and then “Nightmares” rode out and the show was over. Now I had vodka mouth and big eyes, but no more Clipse. So it goes.

We met up with Ben and Dustin, the six of us walking with the crowd out of the Metro, BAPE hoodies and shades in abundance. Down the stairs we went, swimming into the main lobby where the guys from the opening acts were hawking mix tapes and shirts and anything else, and then out the doors and down the block, my brother and his friends saying goodbye and heading to their car as we waved down a cab. We hopped in and zoomed off, joining the rest of the cab-riders in the city, and by the time we got to Ben and Dustin’s it was agreed all around that food was in order. McDonalds probably…late night garbage food that I detest when the sun is up.

But in the nighttime, after a bit of drinking and a lot of thunderous music booming out of man-sized speakers, a pair of small cheeseburgers and some fries are definitely something that’d I’d align myself with. In fact, I’d venture to say that if Ronald McDonald himself was in the drive-thru window and he asked me to throw my twos up, I’d probably do it. Probably.

Copyright 2007, jm silverstein

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