Nas should have opened up for Talib Kweli. It’s that simple.
It was apparent, throughout Nas’ performance at the Canopy Club Saturday night, that he was relying on his cool to carry the show. He knows he has about 15 years of material to choose from, and by knowing that, performing rote versions of a lot of songs was okay to him.
On the other hand, Kweli put on a show, using every part of the stage as he ran from side to side, spitting words coming directly from his ever-growing and ever impressive catalog. Kweli treated his 40 minute set more like a rock show, acting more like a punk than a rapper, and winning the crowd over in a relatively short time.
It wasn’t like the crowd was unfamiliar with his music though. Songs like “I Try” and “Get By” really got them going, and Kweli fed off them like the veteran performer he is. He even sampled a bit of Kanye West’s “Get ‘Em High,” in which he has a guest spot.
If there was any complaints about Kweli (and this goes for Nas and opener Jay Electronica as well), it is that his songs never lasted past two minutes long. Kweli’s albums have the same songs he performed at the show timing in at three and four minutes, so why do they barely reach half that length in concert? The audience wasn’t getting bored in the middle of the songs, so why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Songs should be played the full way through at a show, and a show should not consist of lots and lots of clips.
Still, by the end of Kweli’s performance, the audience was chanting his name. They wanted more. The chant went on for some time, but he didn’t come back out, and the crew quickly started breaking down his stuff and setting up for Nas.
Nas was on about a half hour later, entering to a sampling of “You Can’t Stop Us Now” from his new untitled album. From there the show included a heavy sampling of a new album, and it came off the strongest.
Nas seemed most excited by his new material, so songs like “N***er” and “Black President” had an energy that songs from past albums such as Illmatic or God’s Son lacked. It is rare to say the new songs are the highlight at a concert, but they really got the crowd going just as well as “N.Y. State of Mind” or “I Can,” and Nas responded with coming off as more than just acting cool.
Still, maybe Nas only needed to do exactly what he did for the rest of his set, because the crowd ate it up. With every new song came a fresh batch of cheers and hands. Maybe, just maybe, Nas was content with himself. I really wish he wasn’t, though, and I wish he would have turned in that extra 50 percent to give the capacity crowd a reason to stand in line waiting for the doors to open (the venue started letting people in the doors around 8:20 p.m., even though the show was advertised to start at 6:30 p.m.). Talib certainly did, but the headliner should have stepped it up.
Jay Electronica should have taken some tips from Kweli as well. The up and coming artist was no doubt thrilled to be in front of the audience, but he spent too much time acting that way and not enough time actually rapping. When he did, his beats and rhymes were good, but they needed to be polished. He spent way too much time rapping a cappella, and the show dragged as a result. Still, he is a newcomer, and he will make mistakes the hard way, hopefully coming out better on the other side.

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