The Scene: A diverse crowd packed The Fillmore Auditorium when Hip-Hop veterans Nas and Ms. Lauryn Hill rolled into town for a night of classic beats and old school vibes. When we arrived a large crowd had already gathered close to the stage and the auditorium was buzzing with energy. Nas has been committed to his collaboration with Damien Marley over the last several years so I was highly anticipating seeing him solo, and Lauryn Hill has been noticeably absent from the world of music recently as she has taken time off to raise her first child. Although she may have lost the irresistible youthfulness that contributed to her immense success as a member of The Fugee’s and later as a solo artist, her presence on stage still captivates crowds. The 1990’s Hip-Hop revival was alive and well in the building when DJ Green Lantern took the stage to warm up the crowd with some classic Rap tunes.
Opener: Nas. I’ve always admired Nas because even as the world of rap changes he refuses to conform to the changing landscape. After a 30 minute opening performance from Green Lantern, the undisputed King of Queensbridge took the stage with a wide smile, saluted the crowd, and proceeded to turn The Fillmore upside down. With a terrific band behind him laying down the beats, Nasir Jones opted for the classics as he busted out “N.Y. State of Mind,” “Represent,” “The World is Yours,” and “Street Dreams” in a menacing opening sequence. Before long, the haze in the room thickened and Nas, looking younger and more energetic than ever following his divorce from recording artist Kelis, drove the crowd into frenzy. He closed out the set with a fierce rendition of “Accident Murderers” off the recently released Life is Good album as well as a passionate take on the classic “Hip Hop is Dead.” I hope Nas can continue to shake off the cobwebs and return to the top of the rap universe because in the live setting he’s the undeniable champion.
Ms. Lauryn Hill: By the time Ms. Lauryn Hill finally took the stage with a large band and a plethora of background singers, the crowd had filled in and a loud roar erupted as she opened with a rousing version of “Killing me Softly.” Sadly, it was immediately apparent that Hill no longer possesses the same vocal talents that helped her transform the world of R&B in the 1990’s as her background singers frequently overshadowed the headliner, and the crowd was left with bits and pieces of her voice hung on Gospel-esque melodies. Noticeably absent was Hill’s signature sultry rhythmic delivery that usually lights up any room. Songs such as The Fugee’s covers of “How Many Mics,” “Fu-Gee-La,” and “Ready or Not,” were muddled and it sounded like Hill was shouting into the mic even as her background singers continued to wail heroically in the background.
Much of the performance evoked a mixed reaction from the packed crowd who couldn’t decide whether to dance, stand still, or throw their arms in the air. I even spotted a fair amount of people who decided to call it quits halfway through the performance. Ms. Hill should be embarrassed of her song selection and it was disappointing to see her relying more on her band than her rare and unique talent. Despite this, a generous three song encore of “I Get Out,” a cover of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” salvaged the show for some of us. Witnessing Lauryn Hill up on stage is joy in itself and although her performance faltered in certain areas she still knows how to deliver the classics. Perhaps there’s hope for some new material from Hill in the next couple years, as it’s long overdue.
Stage Presence: A-
Set Light Show: B