Performing to a sold-out crowd at Barton Hall this past Sunday, Chicago-born MC Lupe Fiasco incited the Cornell community to put their hands in the air and, with a few missteps along the way, managed to get them to keep them there for the entirety of his hour and a half set. Thanks in part to the positive vibrations generated by opener K’naan, as well as the ample puffs of smoke billowing throughout the venue, Fiasco kept smiles on the audiences’ eager, albeit somewhat inebriated, faces as he navigated through a set list comprised of tracks spanning his entire career.
Sunday’s show continued the Cornell Concert Commission’s admirable string of success this school year, having been the fourth sellout the CCC has had in a row. Along with the hip-hop banger hosted in the fall featuring Kid Cudi, as well as the indefatigably slick Cee-Lo Green, this weekend’s concert catered to the mainstream crowd and dedicated rap and hip-hop aficionados alike. The audience was an eclectic mix; ranging from that geeky kid from your bio lecture to peace-sign flashing hippies jazzed off of K’naan’s tribal beats, with the mandatory rowdy frat boys and Pharrell-imitators aplenty. Regardless of their differences, this primarily 22-and-under-crowd was united by a common love of Fiasco’s danceable songs, with nary a set of hips remaining stationary by the show’s end.
K’naan, born Keinan Abdi Warsame, took the stage promptly at 7 p.m. Backed by a reggae-infused and world-music-heavy sound, K’naan expertly toed the line between spoken word poetry and rapping to deliver his uplifting and socially aware songs. The influence of his native country, Somalia, is prevalent both in K’naan’s lyrics and in the music itself, with instruments including the djembe (a type of African drum) being utilized on stage. “In The Beginning,” off of his 2005 debut The Dusty Foot Philosopher, proved to be an audience favorite, combining handclaps and a catchy refrain to generate a powerful sing-a-long throughout Barton Hall.
Executing each song with high energy and good cheer, K’naan was definitely feeling the love, going so far as to even say that he “would start dating audiences if they were real woman.” K’naan never let the mood get too heavy, relying on his uptempo, afro-pop songs to keep the crowd moving. K’naan ended his nearly one-hour set with two different versions of the song “Wavin’ Flag,” playing first the version used as the promotional anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and then the original rendition from his 2009 album, Troubadour. Departing the stage to raucous applause, K’naan went above and beyond the usual expectations of what an opening act should be.
After a brief interlude, Lupe Fiasco took the stage looking as fly as ever, outfitted in a leather jacket embroidered with “Lasers Club” across the back and stunna’ shades to make fellow Chicagoan Kanye West proud. Cheers of excitement erupted when the bass-line for “Shining Down” dropped and, although Matthew Santos was not in attendance, a pre-recorded track provided the chorus as Fiasco spit out his smooth flow.
One of the most striking aspects of seeing Fiasco live was the full band that accompanied him on stage, a sight seldom seen at hip-hop concerts. This proved to be a positive at times while detrimental at others, providing Fiasco with a full sound that too frequently displayed hard rock influences that detracted from the hip-hop focus of his music. Although it may be true that Fiasco has spent some time moonlighting in a post-punk outfit called Japanese Cartoon, we came to see Lupe Fiasco the rapper, not the heavy metal front man. Tracks such as “State Run Radio,” off his most recent album, L.A.S.E.R.S., benefited from this rock-infused sound, while the more delicate wordplay of others was at times overpowered.
Rapper MDMA, who is featured twice on L.A.S.E.R.S., joined Fiasco on stage to perform the syrupy “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now,” a song that was cut short due to Fiasco falling while on stage and injuring his leg. Fiasco was quick to regain composure, and performed the song a second time later in the show to much applause. Classics such as “Go Go Gadget Flow” and “Hip Hop Saved My Life” off of Fiasco’s critically acclaimed 2007 album The Cool and “Kick, Push” from his 2006 debut Food & Liquor allowed Fiasco to demonstrate his charismatic showmanship and exceptional talent. With L.A.S.E.R.S. just over a month old, it is understandable that Fiasco performed a set comprised of many songs off his latest, more commercial album, but I’m sure I am among many fans in attendance thankful for the songs from his earlier repertoire.
Possibly getting too caught up in the energy pulsating throughout the venue, Fiasco forgot several of the words to “All Black Everything,” proving to be one of the lowest points of the evening. Although his attempt to remedy his error by launching into an a cappella version of the song seemed to hype up the crowd, matters were only made worse when he again faltered and forgot the lyrics to a second verse. Fiasco, sense of humor intact, made light of the situation by making fun of himself on stage, and all was forgiven when he launched into an impassioned execution of “Streets Are On Fire.” All in all, Fiasco may have stumbled at times both on stage and over his lyrics, but he never failed to entertain. Fiasco, with fans ranging from the mainstream to the underground, will surely be a unifying force in hip-hop for years to come.