Q-Tip and the Roots
With D-Nice, Daniel Merriweather,
Kat DeLuna, secret guest Eve,
and supa secret guest Bobby Brown
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Better than: A bottle of Hennessy all to yourself.
At exactly 11:26 p.m., the Roots rolled out onto the stage through a smoky purple haze. Two keyboard players, a couple of drummers, double MCs, one guitar guy, solo tuba, and a white boy on bass.
Seconds later, Questlove laid down a heartbeat. Q-Tip gripped the mike. And a meandering piano line got lost, then found, then lost again.
One, two, three ... And the Roots exploded into a string of old-school rap jams while Tip spit and Black Thought tossed off shots. First cut: A cover of the Jungle Brothers' "J. Beez Comin' Through," substituting the OG track's chant of "JBs" with "Roots Crew."
Someone unseen sparked a spliff (in honor of Native Tongues?) as the hip-hop history tour tripped deeper, from N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" to Eric B. & Rakim's "Microphone Fiend" to Slick Rick's "Mona Lisa." There were positive nods, thug touches, and some dirty shit.
And it was right here that everything became clear: This wasn't just another Saturday. We had won the lottery. (Almost literally. The Hennessy Artistry RSVP process was random, secretive, and exclusive.) You had the Roots, basically the best live hip-hop band on the planet, and Q-Tip, a revered pioneer of the classic rap game, conducting a real-time master class in the triumphs of rhyme, rhythm, and beat. Think Jordan teaching you to the jump shot.
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Next, slipping through several lines of semi-ironic soul pop and shouting solicitations to "Crack a 40, yo!," Questlove and crew brought out their first guest professor of the night, D-Nice, for a one-song sprint before Tip delivered a quick rip of "Bonita Applebum," his bona fide A Tribe Called Quest classic. "Do I love you?/Do I lust for you?/Am I a sinner cuz I do the two?"
Then silence ... And the fact finally hit the crowd. Up until this moment, the Roots hadn't stopped a second. It had so far been a non-stop, nine-song blitz of heavy thump, tom-tom punch, deep groove, Hendrix riffs, horn blurts, and funky keyboards winding around just below the surface. Every single band member dripped sweat, Q-Tip disappeared backstage for a minute, and Black Thought tossed away his jacket.
But, drum roll, the rave-up ripped again. And this time it went seven straight songs as Questlove and guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas led the rest through three Roots originals ("Thought @ Work," "How I Got Over," "Here I Come"), Aussie crooner Daniel Merriweather's pop-hop single "Change," and another trio of Tip's stuff.
This was how the night worked. One block of music, the next block, and the third began with Kat DeLuna streaking out in a red bodysuit for her 2007 Latin dancehall hit, "Whine Up." With help from three dude dancers in all-black formal wear, DeLuna whipped her hips, snapped her head, and popped it all. She capped her track, stepped off-stage, and slipped into a gold dress, making it back within a single song for her duet with Q-Tip on Tribe's "Verses from the Abstract." The pop queen and MC bumped bodies and traded come-ons before Tip took charge, tearing into "Sucka Nigga" and "Electric Relaxations."
Now, as far as anyone knew, the show was almost over. Every official act had done their thing and another. But when the Roots launched into "You Got Me," pulling sweet-throated Daniel Merriweather out for the Erykah Badu part, there were just too many smiles spread across the onstage faces. It was obvious that something was up.
And out strode Eve, vibing into a verse. Dressed in hot black tights with holes up each side, a beige blazer, and a shiny black bra, she stood Amazonian in serious heels. (It was right for showing off her trademark tiger claw boob tattoos.) Straight away, the hits clicked past -- "Who's That Girl" and "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" being her classics -- as she stalked the stage like a street cat. Then finishing the ratatat rhymes on "Blow Ya Mind," her cameo closed. She was gone. And the show was done, right?
Wrong, motherfucker. In an attempt to fake out the crowd, Questlove called for "Seed," the band stumbled and cut it short, seemingly out of sync. But no, Black Thought started talking, rambling at first, and then working up to a short speech: "We had Kat DeLuna and Daniel Merriweather and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and Eve! How are we gonna top it? How can we top it? How we gonna end the show?"
Who? What? How? It was Bobby Brown. Yeah, the New Edition bad boy. The new jack swing lady slayer. The one-time reality TV celeb. In a way, he's exactly the opposite of everything Q-Tip, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Roots crew stand to defend. He's slick, super-commercial, and shameless. But against logic, the match was total fucking magic.
Calling him "The King of R&B," Black Thought played hype man, leading Brown into a three-pack of tracks from 1988's Don't Be Cruel. Kicking off with "Every Little Step," he strutted and skittered across the stage like a soul man on speed while singing lyrics that seemed way too innocent for post-crack, post-divorce Bobby Brown. ("We were made to fall in love/And we will be together, any kind of weather.") And it didn't really help that the swing king's favorite stage antic of the night was miming cunnilingus at the crowd. Weird stuff.
But forget the incongruity of those virgin words and Bobby's filthy tongue flicks because, surprisingly, his voice remains killer. Considering the guy's age, paunch, and monumental narcotic misadventures with Whitney, Brown can really screech and squeal and howl. And nothing proved it more than the closer: a vicious version of "My Prerogative," ending with a possessed, screaming loop of the line, "Why they always talk about me? Why they always talk about me?! Why they always talk about me!"
At the end, the floor was covered in three things: broken glass, sticky spilled Hennessy, and sweaty ladies. Final proof Bobby Brown still slays.
Personal Bias: I come from the gangsta rap decade of Tupac, Snoop, and the Chronic. It's a step or two after Tribe and Tip.
The Crowd: Mature and sexy ladies in high heels, short dresses, and big earrings. Dudes with dreads and shaved heads. Hip-hoppers in fishing hats.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Girl, I'd let Bobby kiss my shit any day of the week."
Random Notebook Dump: Mr. Bobby Brown wore a t-shirt that read, "My friends say I'm crazy, but I have a good time."
Hip Hop Medley (Q-Tip and the Roots)
-"J. Beez Comin' Through" (Jungle Brothers cover)
-"Straight Outta Compton" (N.W.A. cover)
-"So Wat Cha Sayin'" (EPMD cover)
-"Microphone Fiend" (Eric B. & Rakim cover)
-"Because I Got It Like That" (Jungle Brothers cover)
-"Looking at the Front Door" (Main Source cover)
-"Mona Lisa" (Slick Rick cover)
-"My Name Is D-Nice"
-"Thought @ Work"
-"How I Got Over"
-"Here I Come"
-"Even If It Is So"
The Roots and Q-Tip
-"Verses from the Abstract"
-"You Got Me"
-"Who's That Girl"
-"What Y'All Want"
-"Let Me Blow Ya Mind"
-"Seed" (False start intro)
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-"Every Little Step"