Who Shot Ya?

I did not shoot Suge Knight. I did, however, meet the gangsta and has-been rap mogul just hours before he was shot in the early hours of this past Sunday morning. The meeting occurred at Ludacris's star-studded "barbecue" at South Beach's Hotel Victor. The party was a surprisingly intimate affair that found Jay-Z and his Def Jam family fraternizing with Ludacris and his Disturbing the Peace clique over bottled water and gourmet finger food.

It was interesting to note that Suge didn't show his face until after the East Coast rap illuminati had left the party. I was heading out of the hotel myself when I spotted the Death Row CEO's large and ominous frame near the entrance. The first thing that ran through my mind was, This was the man who is widely rumored to have been behind the murder of Biggie Smalls (the greatest rapper to ever touch a mike, in my book). I intended to ask him the sort of hardball question that could only lead to a muffled confession. But as I tapped him on the arm, and he turned around chomping a cigar and squinting at me through his beady eyes, I thought better of the idea and made small talk for a minute or two. Later someone with a loaded handgun would show less restraint.

When I heard the news that Suge had been shot, I was surprised, but I can't say I was particularly saddened. My heart goes out to my friends in South Florida who were without power for the better part of a week. My prayers are with my family in Louisiana who sweated through Katrina V.2. And after that, there's not much room for the man who almost single-handedly destroyed hip-hop.

And it would be both easy and disingenuous of me to say it was a shame that the Suge incident overshadowed the VMAs. The awards are a Felliniesque carnival of pop celebrity staged by a network that has long-since abandoned playing actual music videos. But to say MTV is no longer interested in music isn't to say there wasn't interesting music. From the Killers to Fall Out Boy to Green Day, rock and roll was back in force Sunday night. The once-sagging genre has recently gotten its swagger back, both in terms of commercial appeal and in hipster cred. Too bad the VMAs' model for rock's resurrection is an aging pop punk band who traded faux-rebellion for faux-respectability. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is like The English Patient of music videos: purportedly important, politely subversive, and catering to an aging demographic that imagines itself above the hip-hop/pop fray. It's not a horrible song -- though the title of it certainly is -- however, it didn't deserve to win seven awards and eclipse the likes of Kanye West and Gwen Stefani.

Rock may have staged a comeback, but hip-hop was still very much at the forefront. For one there certainly was a lot of Diddy, though Diddy is more of an ambassador for Diddy than he is for hip-hop. And he may have convinced us to indulge his identity crisis (the P has been dropped from his name), but he was also a lackluster host. He attempted to win over the easily excited audience with expensive watches and cheap charisma, but in the end his performance was a procession of lame, self-referential jokes and stilted dialogue. He constantly harped that "anything is possible," yet outside of Fat Joe and G-Unit renewing their hateful vows, there was no sense of real spontaneity. And I'll never complain about having to hear Biggie rap, but Diddy's symphonic and emotionally distant tribute to the late, great Frank White bore more than a passing resemblance to Diddy and Sting's performance at the 1997 VMAs.

Between Green Day's bundle of awards, the surprising performance from MC Hammer, Beavis and Butthead's marginally humorous interludes, Diddy's B.I.G. tribute, and a shooting incident involving Suge Knight, it felt as though Katrina had blown us into 1997. The only evidence that we'd entered a new millennium was the emphasis on Latin music, which would have been unimaginable ten years ago. Shakira's performance was a showstopper and was easily the night's most tantalizing moment. And of course it was also great to see reggaeton receive some attention. Don Omar and Tego Calderon both delivered great performances, and Daddy Yankee continued proving he's an international superstar. If nothing else, perhaps this year's VMAs will in some small way help further solidify Latin music's place in mainstream music. It's a small concession to take away from a chaotic week, but it's all Miami has to show for the VMAs.

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Sam Chennault
Contact: Sam Chennault