Best of the Best 2012
With Fabolous, Meek Mill, French Montana, Fat Joe, 2 Chainz, Ace Hood, and others
Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park, Miami
Sunday, May 28, 2012
Better Than: If you know what this was better than, "MAKE SOME NOIIIIIISE!"
The occasional drizzle extinguished neither piff, nor spirit. These were no ordinary concertgoers. These were the Best of the Best.
On Sunday at Bayfront Park, a near-capacity crowd got ten hours of music. There was everything from dancehall to reggae and hip-hop.
However, it was a flawed affair that was forced to drop at least two artists due to time constraints, even as DJs babbled on about themselves and their friendships with the artists.
Yet with sizzling pots of meats on offer and tiny shorts made from the flags of various island nations, Best of the Best 2012 was as much a cultural festival as a music festival. And in that regard, it was a success. Much of the music was excellent too. Although, some was hardly the best of anything.
The biggest names were part of a non-stop hip-hop superset that began with Ace Hood and 2 Chainz proving why they're on the cusp of true stardom.
For his part, Hood hustled through his songs with the sharp intensity of a local hero in a freestyle battle. Meanwhile, 2 Chainz (wearing way more than two chains, BTW) seemed like a star mostly because he appears comfortable letting the audience do the work during shows.
Recently, Kanye West claimed that since signing with his G.O.O.D. label, 2 Chainz commands $100,000 per verse. Perhaps if Best of the Best tickets had been $100,000 instead of $55, he would have actually rapped instead of letting the crowd handle his verses. Instead, for their money, the audience got to hear themselves, a hype man, and the DJ track.
A short time later, 2 Chainz ceded the stage to Fat Joe, who seemed like something of an anachronism. His most enduring songs are built around hooks sung years ago by now-absent women. He has never had a nimble flow or particularly witty or insightful lyrics. But he always had a menacing bluster that could push his songs through to a point where they were worth listening to.
He's lost considerable weight since his peak. And maybe, while sweating to the oldies, he also lost whatever it was that made him a compelling performer.
In between songs, Joe recited a conversation he claimed to have had, leading him to be in Miami for Best of the Best. It included this exchange:
"Joe, we need you in Miami but you might not want to go."
"Because the weather's real nice."
Either Fat Joe's bellow doesn't lend itself well to sarcasm or he is incredibly susceptible to reverse psychology. If that's the case, then we say, "Hey, Fat Joe, whatever you do, don't release any relevant music after 2006, okay?"
Next, French Montana took over the Best of the Best show, with Fat Joe describing him as his "little brother" and saying, "He look like Illuminati, got pyramids and shit all over his chain."
Ever since Kendrick Lamar rapped, "Who said a black man in the Illuminati/Last time I check, that was the biggest racist party," and Rick Ross figured out that "Illuminati" rhymes with "Bugatti," there's not much left for rappers to say about that particular secret society without sounding like the equivalent of a suburban housewife going on about her "bling bling."
But let's not punish Frenchie for the sins of his ersatz older brother. Given the humidity, he opted for a towel over his head rather than his usual array of scarves. He similarly tailored his show to the hits, launching straight into "Shot Caller," which has the dubious distinction of a Lil Troy-derivative chorus and some of Frenchie's least focused verses. His two-song mini set concluded with, of course, the monster that is "Stay Schemin'."
It was an obvious and correct inclusion. But it's good to remember that it's Rick Ross, Drake and The Beat Bully who are what is truly good about "Stay Schemin'." Hearing the French Montana version live is like going to a Max Weinberg concert and getting ten minutes of the drums from "Born to Run."
Frenchie is an unusually voiced and charismatic star who didn't really show off why he's achieved so much success. But perhaps that wasn't his concern. He's still really fun. And in contrast to the rest of the day's generally weak crowd interaction, Montana got a pretty great response from his pretty great line, "All the bad bitches say 'Owwwww!'"
Then we got Meek Mill. And while Ace Hood came pretty close, Mill turned out to be Best of the Best 2012's real show stealer.
The Maybach Music Group member started with "Amen," one of the best singles of any genre to be released this year. Live, the production lost a bit of its finesse. But even so, it is easily his best song that doesn't have Rick Ross on it. He did, of course also include one of those in "Imma Boss." It works well without Rick Ross in a way that "The Star Spangled Banner" doesn't need full-on flag-waving to be a stirring song.
The rap portion of Best of the Best concluded with Fabolous. Unlike certain other BOTB performers, he never let his hype men do the work. And even though his set may have lacked Meek Mill's fire, Fabolous is a huge star with huge songs and they felt even bigger by the water as the sun set.
Then things got weird during the final, reggae and dancehall portion of the festival.
First, let's focus on the good. Like Christopher Martin, a young lovers rock reggae singer with boundless energy and a voice suited to high-flying melodies. Or I-Octane, a dancehall singer who other than perhaps Meek Mill and Mavado, gave the performance of the festival, tearing through his gritty set with ruthless hunger.
Serani had a strong showing and T-Vice, a compas band of exceptional dexterity twisted their rhythms through the hips packed into amphitheater. But then things started to go wrong.
Whereas the hip-hop portion of the festival was one continuous show with artists entering and leaving the stage without ever interrupting the music, Best of the Best 2012's final section was broken up by interminable speeches by a glut of DJs stalking the stage with a microphone, just hoping for just a nibble of the adulation the musicians had been getting.
DJs are people employed to have taste, keep good pace, and talk for a living. But apparently, without a record to speak over, they completely lose their shit. At the most embarrassing, they would walk on the stage and yell for the crowd to "make some noise!" for just about any dumb thing.
"If you're here at Best of the Best, make some noise!"
"If you respect reggae music, make some noise!"
The crowd was usually game. But by the time "the CEO of World Star Hip Hop" was trotted out for no good reason, no one made noise when asked, "If you're ready, make some noise!"
The most silly was a DJ who went through every nation possible, requesting for "Jamaica, make some noise!" and "Barbados, make some noise!" before getting little in the way of noise from "Do I see Surinam in the building?"
No. No, he did not see Surinam in the building.
In Miami, a city in which political shame is the most reliable aspect of the infrastructure, City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones made a mockery of herself. She presented Shaggy with the key to the city following his last song, the timeless ode to adultery, "It Wasn't Me." The song has improved with age and Shaggy now pantomimes the "banging on the counter" as the song is performed.
In a sober moment, Spence-Jones handed Shaggy the key and told him on behalf of the City of Miami (this includes you, by the way): "You are a legend, you are appreciated, you are truly loved." Actually, Commissioner, he is truly lova-lova-ed.
Shaggy, according to commissioner, has done a lot of humanitarian work in Haiti. By all means, that should be acknowledged but even Shaggy had to smirk at the absurdity of receiving the key to the city, asking, "But do I get a parking space with this?"
Oh, and Spence-Jones couldn't resist calling out, "Is Haiti in the house? Is Jamaica in the house?" Clap, clap. Sigh. Let it go, Michelle Spence-Jones.
Nevertheless, Shaggy was a ton of fun, dishing out the hits with a grin. As mentioned, he finished his set with "It Wasn't Me," which included a strange breakdown that confirmed him as a creature of the 1990s.
"If you get caught cheating, do not do the Tiger Woods. Do like the player of all players, Bill Clinton and you say, 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman.'" And he did a full-on Bill Clinton voice, though mixed with his regular Shaggy voice. This made him sound like your uncle on cough syrup yukking it up at a barbecue ten years ago.
Shaggy was happy to let his band vamp and fill time, as well as to lead the crowd in some pointless I-bet-the-back-can-be-louder-than-the-front games. It was no worse than any of the other time wasting that took place throughout the day.
But the worst part of all of this wasted time was that T-Vice had to cut its set short after just two songs. And yet the prattle continued unabated in between sets, resulting in Ghost and Khago being chopped from the show entirely.
Despite time being tight, Mavado got a few minutes to throw down some braid-swinging bangers. But his set was marred by the appearance of his We the Best boss, DJ Khaled. The man doesn't rap, he doesn't produce, and he barely DJs in the proper off-air sense. All he really ever does on records is to yell, "DJ Khaled! We the best!," which was apparently too hard for him to do at Cameo the other night. At Best of the Best, there was no such problem.
Though he was listed as a featured artist on the same level as anyone else, DJ Khaled took the stage for maybe three minutes during Mavado's show. In that time, he yelled, "DJ Khaled! We the best!" and then magnanimously added, "If you've been following my career, you know I've been representing Jamaica since I was a baby."
At this point, DJ Khaled is sort of like the Dr. Scholl of the hip-hop industry. No one knows what the actual Dr. Scholl does or what his medical credentials are but we feel safe that product with his name on it is going to be good for our feet. For all we know, at podiatry festivals, Dr. Scholl shows up for a hot minute to yell, "Dr. Scholl! We gellin'!" before retreating back to the VIP section and mad foot bitches.
Another casualty of the show running long was Mr. Vegas, who only lasted about two songs until his microphone was cut-off mid verse at exactly midnight. He's a powerful performer who came dressed in a sharp suit. He didn't even have occasion to loosen his tie before being unceremoniously ushered from the stage amid a chorus of boos.
The other major disappointment was the fact that the last woman to take the stage as a featured performer was Lil Brianna. She put on an excellent set. But she was relegated to a spot five long hours before the end of the show. So .. Where were the women?
Yes, the audience was overwhelmingly female. And for all of the pandering to the ladies in the audience (nearly every man with a microphone had some kind of variation on "If you're a woman and paid for your own damn ticket, make some noise!" as if that were some kind of transgressive, liberated accomplishment), there weren't enough females on the stage.
We hope that next year, the organizers will reconsider what they mean when the say the Best of the Best.
Critic's Bias: When one of the DJs asked the crowd to shout out which island is the best in the world, I think I was the only one who said, "...Manhattan?"
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Free Swag: Lots of demo and mixtape CDs were left on the ground. But all those towels marked with the names of unknown singers and rappers got good use.
Strange Promotions: Giant cardboard cutouts of Ciroc bottles were carried through the crowd. These were swarmed, touched, and photographed as though they were the California Raisins or something.
Fashion Watch, 2012: Neon leggings and animal print halter-tops proved to be enduring classics.