If the July 6 Seagram's Gin Live concert at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center is anything to go on, hip-hop, once a voice of rebellion, has traded its street credentials for flashing lights and dancing girls more appropriate for a Vegas floor show than a revolution.
The concert, which featured performances by SuperVision, Public Announcement, Jaheim, Ludacris, Nivea and Mystikal, included everything that has gone wrong with what might be the most important musical movement since Chuck Berry picked up an electric guitar. Where once rap was the domain of angry young men railing against an unjust society, it has become a cabaret of improbably buxom women, screamed obscenities and nosebleed bass.
Opening the show for, well, several dozen fans (the civic center was never more than one-half full) blind rapper SuperVision performed a by-the-numbers set that liberally referenced his fondness for girls, grass and his own sightlessness. It's never a good sign when physical disability is rolled out as a selling point.
Public Announcement, whose most recent hit is about, of all things, infidelity in the beeper age, followed suit with more de rigueur pneumatic hip-hop dancers and R-rated prodding of the listless crowd. The group's set also marked the first time a performer would rip off a shirt to reveal a glistening torso beneath the standard Brando-style undershirt. This, evidently, is a popular move, as it was repeated no less than five times over the course of the evening.
Soul sensation Jaheim, however, could be the real deal. Blessed with a true sense of groove, an appealing vocal delivery and endless stage charisma, he is the rarest of all entertainers, one who approaches stepping on the stage as a privilege rather than a chore. He did, however, fall into one tempting trap, asking attractive women to share the stage with him like living ornaments.
Although there is nothing new about the ground covered by Ludacris - more songs about women, wine and the occasional illicit substance - he does it with enough conviction to convince even the most jaded that he is authentic. Stripped of all the flash and circumstance that dilutes hip-hop, his energetic appearance proved to be less a performance than a scorched-earth rampage through rap's nastiest backwaters. Instead of stage flash, Ludacris depended on the old school skills that initially brought rap into the public eye: rapping, rhyming, spinning and scratching. There is no substitute for skill.
And that is a lesson Mystikal would do well to heed. Despite being punctuated by the soaring vocals of his protege Nivea, his set never ignited the way Ludacris' had. Mystikal did have the distinct advantage that only a fusillade of confetti cannons can offer.
Mystikal's set was a textbook example of squandered resources. Once hailed as the prince of Southern hip-hop, he seemed content to rest on his laurels, presenting the same tired schtick, albeit at an amplified level. After a not-so-mysterious David Copperfield entrance, Mystikal cruised through a set that never took off. Instead, he meandered through it, letting the dancers, flashing lights and, of course, exposed undershirt do his talking for him.
Sadly, they had very little to say.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.