Friday, April 9, 2010

Music: Talib Kweli and Jean Grae at the Powerhouse

It seems that my time in New Zealand, when not spent chasing chickens out of the house, is dedicated to hearing live performances of musicians with whom I'm not all that familiar. Looking for tracks produced by the 9th Wonder, I'd come to know a few of Jean Grae's tracks well, but I don't have any of her albums, or any of headlining Kweli's.

Hip-hop in Auckland seems a little out of place (Jean, Talib, and their back-up singer are perhaps the eighth, ninth, and tenth black people I've seen in this countryno exaggerationand I've been here a month). That said, Jean was in high spirits, literally and figuratively, drinking Gray Goose straight from the bottle, and exhorting the audience to step up their game. She was particularly hard on the front row, stopping between songs to instruct a lardy blonde in hip-hop show etiquette: "Get your titties up off the motherfucking rail."

Sugar-coated belligerence aside, the girl can rap. No matter how drunk she got, she didn't miss one word; her delivery was crisp and clean, and her flow rhythmic and playful. Kweli, contrastingly, was loud but indistinct, hard and repetitive, like a jackhammer that paused every few minutes to exhort its own utility. While Jean and her back-up singer were making math jokes, Kweli was name-checking himself every few lines; while Jean told us to tip our bartenders, Kweli told us to buy his t-shirts. Not knowing his work well, but having always considered him a thinking-man's rapper, I have to admit that I was disappointed. If I'd never heard of either of them, and didn't know that hip-hop is, for the most part, a man's world, I'd have been surprised that Jean opened for Kweli and not the other way around.

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