Grapevine Music Contributor
Music has changed. Those of us who love good music, driven by feeling and purpose, find ourselves wondering, in the words of Kanye West, “Do anybody make real s— anymore?” I found my answer in a Hip Hop revival I attended recently in Atlanta, featuring Nas and the incredible Ms. Lauryn Hill. They brought back all of the things we’ve missed through their joint tour, “Life Is Good/ Black Rage.”
I couldn’t have asked for anything more from Nas’ performance at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. The venue is intimate and a perfect place for an audience that wants the music to move through them. Nas was energetic, engaging and completely on point. He proved that at this stage in his career, he can still bring a crowd and keep them hypnotized by his art.
Even with Nas’ great set, reminiscent of his Illmatic days, the real highlight of the evening was Ms. Lauryn Hill. She stole the show. Her voice and her flow were as impeccable as they were in 1998. She performed all of the crowd’s old favorites, but proved her musical genius by completely rearranging them and adding a new style with her live band.
She came out with a fresh look in high-waist trousers, a fur coat and a green fitted hat. She hit all of her notes perfectly and with feeling. It made the crowd of good music lovers wonder why we had settled for the garbage on the radio for the last decade.
She killed her old hits, but captivated the crowd with her new piece, “Black Rage.” It gave me chills.
“Black rage is founded on two-thirds a person, rape and beatings and sufferings, and worse…”
Those are the messages we don’t hear in Hip Hop anymore. She brought it back with force and lit the crowd on fire. After she flowed through the track flawlessly on beat, she stopped and delivered it in spoken word like only a true artist can do.
“Black Rage” is a melancholy remix of the recognizable Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. The chorus stings with, “So when the dogs bite, and the beatings, and I’m feeling sad, I simply remember all these kinds of things [the things mentioned in the verses] and then I don’t fear so bad.”
I was moved by this music, not just because it was good and thought provoking, and spiritual in a way, but because it reminded me of what music used to mean to our people, and what it could mean again. It reminded me of the artistry we are missing in a lot of modern mainstream music. I sincerely hope this tour is the start of a comeback for Ms. Lauryn Hill. Music needs her.
W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his Talented Tenth essay that if the Black nation did not have good leaders to follow, we would follow “untrained” demagogues. Since the departure of great musical and thought leaders like Ms. Lauryn Hill, we have done just that.
We have settled for whatever is on the radio and lost sight of the reason Hip Hop was born. As Hill raps in Superstar, “Hip Hop started out in the heart,” with young Black, kids who had no voice in society, expressing themselves through the tradition of oral history. Now, people call anything rhymed over a beat “Hip Hop.” There is a song with a chorus that says, “All I want for my birthday is a big booty ho,” like seven times, and we call it music.
Not every song has to be a serious revelation, but the ignorance that has taken the place of music that hits the heart and provokes thought is appalling. Rappers have a larger audience than authors such as Michael Eric Dyson and Toni Morrison, but with this great influence, rappers decide to feed the masses muck and shallow, unimportant words. It is a travesty. So, in this concert, I didn’t just feel nostalgia. I felt a glimmer of hope that good music can return to the forefront and we can stop worshiping untrained demagogues.