Sunday, May 30, 2010
Better Than: Last year's Best of the Best.
Another Best of the Best is in the bag, and this year's was better than the last. This time around, there was no interruption of rain as in 2009, only beautiful weather ... and Gucci Mane's first solid live performance since his release from Fulton County jail this past May 12. This was a day filled with highlights, but we'll try to cover them all. Here's a rough timeline of how the show broke down.
1:30 p.m. sharp: Doors opened, and people were ready to go. Let's not get it twisted people, some Caribbean people do arrive to events on time! Surprisingly enough, by mid-afternoon, the park looked robustly full, with a lot more families with children in the mix. Kids under 12 were free, after all. The DJ kept the sound system light and fun with classic Top 40 reggae hits and Bob Marley tunes.
4:30 p.m.: The first real artist, 20-year-old Romain Virgo, took the stage. Virgo first scored a claim to fame for being the youngest to win the Digicel Rising Stars competition (Jamaica's version of American Idol) in 2007. Appropriately, he started the show with a heartfelt version of the Jamaican national anthem, which, considering Jamaica's current turmoil, served as a solemn reminder for unity and peace. He continued with an impressive 10-minute set showcasing his vocal prowess and stage presence on original songs like "The Rain is Falling" and "This Love" as well as some classics.
5 p.m.: Up next was Demarco, who's more known for producing some of today's biggest dancehall riddims than his stage show. Still, he did not disappoint. He sang "Gyal Call Me", "Fallen Soldiers," "Duppy Know Ah Who Fi Frighten," and "True Friends," and it was incredible to know that he's the voice of these popular dancehall singles. You learn something new everyday.
5:40 p.m.: Up-and-coming dancehall artist G Whizz took the stage, followed by another up-and-comer, Chino, son of reggae legend Freddie McGregor. Both entertained the crowd, now 5000 strong, yet it wasn't until the appearance of reggae/dancehall icon Pinchers that the mood for the rest of the evening was truly set. His 20-minute performance music was the perfect backdrop for what looked like a perfect summer evening with not one cloud in sight.
6:30 p.m.: After Pinchers came the man of the dancehall hour, Gyptian, who scored his first hit, "Mama, Don't Cry" in 2005 and has been dubbed the ladies' man of reggae. Currently he's enjoying massive crossover success with his single, "Hold Yuh," which recently broke into the Billboard Top 100 at number 93. (The mass appeal of the song has even garnered it a remix featuring hip-hop princess of the hour, Nicki Minaj.) It's only appropriate that Gyptian ended his 30-minute set with that song, which got all the females in the audience swooning.
7 p.m.: Up next, conscious roots reggae artist Anthony B. stormed onstage and rampaged through a short, 10-minute, high-energy set. Ramming through tune after tune, Anthony B. pumped up the crowd for the next act, Mr. Vegas.
Mr. Vegas is a staple in the dancehall scene. His "Heads High" might well be one of the most popular dancehall tunes of the last decade, and with his appearance on Pitbull's hit track, "Culo," he's also enjoyed some crossover success. It's amazing how many hits Mr. Vegas has under his belt, and it was no surprise that he ended his set with his now-classic spiritual anthem, "I Am Blessed," transforming the park into a sprawling church.
From church we headed to the strip club, though, as Lady Saw, the first lady of dancehall, took over. No one, I mean, no one, messes with Lady Saw. This woman ruled that stage like it's her bitch and the audience couldn't get enough. During her memorable performance at last year's Best of the Best, she showcased her Karma Sutra-worthy flexibility, and this year brought more of the same.
Miss Saw lured in her first victim, an innocent male bystander standing in the front of the stage, into the show during her infamous track, "Tight Pum Pum." She politely asked him to talk dirty to her, and when Saw placed the microphone next to his mouth, the man became speechless. With that, Lady Saw couldn't help but respond, "You is not a Jamaican! Don't worry, I understand you don't like girls!"
The crowd went crazy -- to the poor man's shame -- but Lady Saw continued to hammer through her 20-minute set. It was a show both classy and nasty, with an overall message to naysayers that she may like to get freaky, but she likes her men to treat her right.
8 p.m.: The sun had almost set, and with only four hours until the mandatory end of the concert, there was still a hefty list of artists left to perform. Backstage, a mob scene formed as two open-aired white Range Rover jeeps roll through with blaringly loud music followed by a small army of minions holding up Ciroc bottles and posters for the movie Get Him To the Greek. Who else would boast such a flamboyant entrance other than Diddy? Unlike the subject of that movie, though, he got himself to Bicentennial Park despite persistent rumors that he would be a no-show.
Meanwhile, on the actual show's stage, the crowd was clearly hyped as usual. Dancehall duo RDX ran through its short set, then quickly followed by Alliance brethren, Serani. He repped for his labelmates Mavado and Bounty Killer, both who were initially set to perform at the show, but couldn't get visas in time.
8:30 p.m.: The soca portion of the show now started with the reigning king of the genre, Machel Montano. Trinidadian flags burst up in the air as the fast and loud boom of soca's infectious beats filtered through the night sky.
Following -- quickly, again -- was Baby Cham, whose collaboration with Alicia Keys on his single "Ghetto Story" received much love stateside. Cham was once noted as the next Sean Paul thanks to his crossover appeal, yet the tag didn't stick. Regardless, Cham is still an undeniable force in the dancehall/reggae scene and his talents onstage reassured everyone that he's still a force to be reckoned with.
9 p.m.: By now, it was apparent that the crowd was getting restless. Finally, after multiple false alarms, the lights dimmed and the concert's host, Jabba, made a dramatic announcement. "Introducing the next female artist to blow," he intoned, as the crowd started and fans pulled out their cameras. "Ladies and gentlemen ... please welcome ... Jovi Rockwell!"
Huh?!? What the ...?!?
It was apparent that my reaction was the same as that of every single person in the audience. Jovi who? Where was Nicki Minaj? As poor Jovi entered the stage, singing like an off-day Santigold, there were actual boos from the crowd. Yikes!
Luckily, she got a quick save from local hip-hop superhero Flo Rida. As his biggest single, "Low," came blaring through the speakers, the audience soon quieted down and got back on the festival train. Flo brought a whole crew of up-and-comers with him: Lil' Brianna, Brisco, Billy Blue, and Git Fresh.
It was apparent that this portion of Best of the Best was the Poe Boy Records showcase. No disrespect to Poe Boy and their artists, but their portion was 10 minutes too long. By its end, the now-10,000-plus-member audience had apparently lost interest.
9:35 p.m.: The Poe Boy posse left the stage suddenly to the bewilderment of the concert's host, Jabba, who eventually told the audience they'd be right back. "Oh my God, are these people retarded?" yelled a woman next to me.
No comment. And to make the audience even more agitated, Jabba got back on the mike with this ominous statement: "Well, I got some good news and bad news." Silence hung over the park. "She missed her flight and it's not our fault and...." The crowd frothed into panic. He wasn't referring to Nicki, was he?
"I'm just playing!" Jabba continued, satisfied with his own ruse. "Ladies and gentlemen, Nicki Minaj!" Finally, it was time for the hottest chick in the music game right now. Hip-hop Barbie, Nicki, looking oh-so-cute with her brunette wig and spandex dress, pranced onto the stage, giving high fives to all the lucky chumps in the front of the crowd.
One thing was clear: Nicki has definitely grabbed the Britney Spears status of hip-hop right about now, which is both good and bad. It was obvious that she was fine with lip syncing, and her entire set was strung together like a mixtape of all her radio hits, with Nicki herself serving more as hype woman. She did, however, throw in some soca, highlighting Destra's "Carnival" in there as she grabbed a Trinidad flag from one of the audience members, repping her native heritage.
Finally, Nicki requested a Sharpie marker and some boobs -- yes, boobs -- as stagehands brought up 10 lucky ladies for Nicki to autograph their ta-tas. And just like that, she was gone. All that waiting and anticipation for 10 short minutes. You're such a tease, Nicki!
10 p.m.: With just two hours left to go in the schedule, here came the all-too-familiar yell, "Deeee-Jaaaay Khhhhhaaa-led! Weeeeeee da BEST!" DJ Khaled's single "All I do is Win" blasted through the speakers as Rick Ross, Plies, Khaled himself, and a thick entourage of more than 30 rushed the stage. Witnessing this Miami-heavy set was like listening to Top 40 radio but in 3-D.
From "Hustling" to "Still the Boss" to "Super High" to all the major bangers from Khaled's new album, Victory, this was 3-0-5 at its height. And of course, what more could you ask for than a cameo appearance by Diddy? Actually, the mogul was supposedly going to host the hip-hop portion of the show, yet the only hosting he did was really to introduce the next act following the set by Khaled and friends.
10:30 p.m.: Probably the most anticipated appearance of the night was ready for his close-up. Gucci Mane, who just served a six-month stint for parole violation from a previous arrest, was greeted with an intensity that only Miami could bring. His appearance at Best of the Best was a big deal -- his first performance since his release only two weeks ago -- and most people didn't believe he was actually going to perform. Well, all disbelievers were proven wrong.
Gucci Mane is back and with the help of his Brick Squad crew, including Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci killed it! By the time he finished up his hit single "Lemonade" and rolled through another hit, "O Let's Do It" with Waka, the 10,000-plus crowd was singing every word. Folks sure do love some Gucci ... Mane.
As Gucci finished, so did the hip-hop portion of the festival, and, down to the wire, Barrington Levy, Cocoa Tea, and Capleton were all set to perform. But before those legends of reggae, there was a slight detour to the Bahamas with Bahamian popstar Sammi Starr.
Throughout the evening, the audience has been asked to rep their country's flag hard but it was becoming clearer that by the end of the night that Bahamians were trumping the Jamaicans at this Caribbean festival! And when Sammi Starr came on the stage, it was as if Jesus himself came down from the sky. Bullhorns, Bahamian flags, and overwhelming cheers flooded the park in a display of possibly the most energy the audience had all day.
And to keep the energy going, reggae legend Barrington Levy now appeared. He barely needed an introduction as everyone in the audience was singing word for word from his first song. Barrington is to reggae what Frank Sinatra is to American music -- timeless and oh-so-smooth.
His set was followed by that of another classic reggae staple, Cocoa Tea, who started with a version of "Waiting in Vain" to keep the audience singing.
Finally, as if it couldn't get any better, Best of the Best capped off with the Fiyah Man, Capleton. There's no denying that Capleton is a legend in Jamaica and his stage show proves that he is the best of the best of the best! By far, Capleton's performance outshined those of everyone on this bill -- he is called the Fiyah Man for a reason.
Capleton burned that stage down with his unmatched energy and musical talents. And although he Capleton was ushered offstage at midnight, he still clutched his microphone, singing a cappella for another two minutes until authorities cut off his sound. It was the best ending to what has to be the best Best of the Best yet. How the hell are they going to top this one next year?
Personal Bias: I appreciate a well-dressed performer. If there was a prize for best dressed at Best of the Best, the award goes to Mr. Vegas for his sleek, black Hugo Boss suit. Now, if only Khaled and his crew could follow this example -- let's leave the wife beaters and Ed Hardy T-shirts at home and at least try to dress up for the occasions.
Random Detail: It was a Free Weezy and Free Buju kind of show, as both artists were heavy on the minds of many of the performers at BOTB and shout-outs were aplenty for both incarcerated men.
By the Way: Big respects go out to the silent man behind this massive undertaking, producer Joey Buddafucco (no, not the Amy Fisher flame; clearly that's not his real name.) He reportedly has big plans for next year's Best of the Best, which are super under wraps. Maybe a two-day festival? Maybe multiple stages? Who knows, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Joey.
-- Esther Park