A packed house filed out of the snowy spring weather and into the thick humid air of Bailey Hall on Sunday night for what would be an enjoyable lesson in real hip-hop music. Mixing old and new with a simplistic style only God’s Son can pull off, Nas gave his fans a memorable, though abbreviated, performance on a rare visit to Ithaca.
Around the concert’s announced start time (8:00 p.m.) the uninspired atmosphere in the building made it seem like a morning lecture was about to begin, rather than a raucous rap concert. While the blizzard-like conditions outside had much to do with the initial apathy of the crowd, the lack of action over the concert’s first 45 minutes likely played an even larger role. Finally just before 8:45. Eric Chen, a stage crew member, came on and provided a not-so-riveting soundtrack for the night’s early moments. Mixing classic dance grooves with the latest club bangers. Chen at least got the audience nodding their heads, allowing thoughts of winter storms and snow banks to leave the building’s collective conscious.
After about 20 minutes of spinning, a number of familiar faces began rummaging through Eric’s record bin. It was then announced that the opening acts had cancelled and instead the crowd would be treated to some “impromptu hip-hop music.” Another moment and the local rap group 211, who had also been helping setup Bailey, had taken the stage, sending certain sections of the audience into a frenzy of waving hands and screaming voices. Five MCs trading three mics, took turns spitting pre-written rhymes over popular rap beats. Though the crowd didn’t quite know how to react at first, the group’s ability was undeniable and the event finally felt like a hip-hop show. Exiting the stage shouting “Two-what”, with the crowd responding “Two-El’en,” 211 provided the much-needed warm-up before the headline act took the stage.
With the delicious local flavor inciting a once dormant crowd, the moment was prepped for Nas to set the night off. With the stage set-up involving just two turntables draped with a subtle tapestry, Nas provided all the energy his performance needed, opening with a fury. DJ L.E.S provided a thrilling classically-driven introduction and the man himself walked confidently to center stage, backed by two bodyguards and a member of his Queensbridge musical crew, Bravehearts. His first number, “The Cross” — an Eminem-produced, bass-heavy track off his latest album for which the tour was named — sent the crowd into a long-anticipated whirlwind of Oh-my-God-it’s-really-Nas euphoria. He continued with another God’s Son song, “Get Down”, which allowed the crowd to get actively involved in a call and response routine that would continue for much of the night.
For the fashion curious, Nas wore a red tee-shirt with a #1 logo, baggy blue jeans, a stunningly bling bracelet — which I noticed was really a diamond-super saturated half pair of handcuffs — and an elaborate bandanna knotted at his right temple. Hung around his neck was his ever present gold and diamond Jesus piece, echoing the messianic overtones of much of his work.
After the jazzy “Get Down,” Nas took his crowd back to the grittier days of 1994 and offered a seamless medley of songs off his classic freshman effort, Illmatic. “The World is Yours,” “Life’s a B****,” and “One Love” were included in the frantic mixture.
Nas then vaulted into some of his more popular material from Nastradamus and I Am, including “Nas is Like