Three years ago, New Times called out South Florida's epidemic of shitty rap shows. Since then, local artists have continued to rise, making waves on the national stage.
But now it’s 2019, and Miami’s music scene is still full of shitty shows and performances.
A few weeks ago, I went to the biggest hip-hop music festival in Miami, Rolling Loud, and noticed the artists onstage, well, sucked. No, they didn’t make bad music, but they spent the majority of their time out of breath, mumbling over their mastered tracks, or just running back and forth onstage while their music played in the background. Very few artists had back-up dancers or a band to bring some type of creative element to their sets.
Rolling Loud isn't an outlier. You can find that same disappointing energy on plenty of South Florida stages. The performance value many artists are bringing is subpar, and there's only one person to blame: the artist.
Performing is an art form. The way an artist enters the stage, how they hold the mike, the eye contact they make with the audience, and how they thank their fans for coming to the show — all of that speaks volumes. Broward-based singer Keba has been performing since she was 8 years old and has perfected her performance value. “I love the energy of live instrumentation, so I usually perform with a band,” Keba says. Depending upon the show, her band includes bass, drums, and guitar, but it can also include background vocals, horns, and keys for larger events.
Keba's last performance at Gramps in Wynwood wooed the crowd and enticed guests to truly get into her set, even if they’d never heard of her before. “At my shows, you can expect music that moves your mind, body, and soul. Music is a feeling for me, literally like a physical sensation, and I want my audience to experience that touch,” she says. She takes the time to study her favorite acts and how they perform on small and large stages, which brings new elements to her performance.
But Keba is a rarity in the scene.
As we enter a major digital age of music, many musicians are getting lazy when it comes to performing. Because of social media, it’s easy to carry a career digitally, but only for so long — until your fans want to see you live.
It can be difficult to prevail as a hip-hop artist in an era of bubblegum and SoundCloud rap, especially when it comes to live performances. But too many SoundCloud rappers think a live performance means simply crowd-surfing, demanding a mosh pit, and having their DJ provide ad-libs when they run out of breath from running back and forth onstage to a mastered track.
“I don’t perform over my vocals,” says Broward rapper Sin, who has cut back on performing and relies heavily on social media to share his music — but that doesn’t stop him from properly preparing for shows. “It’s viewed as lazy because it highlights how we, as artists, sometimes don’t remember the words to all of our music. I come from having show versions where your vocals appear on the hook or chorus.” That allows the audience to catch on easily to the music, making the live experience memorable. “You can always expect a true hip-hop experience at my shows. I would personally like the crowd to leave my shows mesmerized like, Damn, real music is still alive out here?"
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What makes any performance memorable is the artist's ability to deliver. Regardless of whether the artist raps or sings, everyone can benefit from performance and vocal lessons. “If an artist believes that they are too good for singing lessons, they are being ignorant to the fact that they don’t know everything. Vocal lessons are so much more than ear training. It has to do with breathing and vocal technique as well,” says Meraises Miranda, a vocal instructor in West Kendall. With five years of teaching under her belt, she takes pride in perfecting her students' craft.
Vocal coach Candi Tandy has also done her due diligence in vocal training. Teaching in the public school system and privately for more than 23 years, she notes that proper training can benefit all artists. “Serious vocal artists should approach their training, skill-building, and practice and all areas of their lives in the same ways an Olympic athlete approaches theirs,” Tandy says.
Whether the artist is performing on a major festival stage or serenading a hundred guests at Gramps in Wynwood, the audience expects a performance. This goes far beyond half-assing the music and allowing the DJ to carry the set. Finding a balance between the audience’s energy and the artist's creativity is the key to delivering a proper performance.
In all, fans in Miami are tired of shitty rap performances. Lip-syncing to mastered tracks and starting riots in the crowd to distract the audience from the fact that the artist is out of breath should no longer be tolerated. Through vocal and performance training, along with a little research and practice, it’s easier to be comfortable in one's art. Though social media continues to make stars of artists overnight, it’s time for those artists to deliver onstage.