March 11, 2009
Better than: Watching T.I.'s Road To Redemption on MTV, which is no Rock of Love, that's for sure.
During one of his (too) many monologues to a crowded--but not nearly sold out--Nokia Theatre last night, T.I. thanked God for allowing him to reach the heights he has as a rapper. But, really, at this performance, the soon-to-be-incarcerated (on weapons charges) superstar should've thanked Big Chief.
Because, were it not for the budding Dallas rapper's short appearance before T.I.'s set, the man who calls himself "The King" would've found himself playing to a rowdy, disgruntled room.
You can blame that on Yung L.A., T.I.'s tour support. The set from the Atlanta-based rapper and his hype men was a combustible combination of lazy showmanship and an ear-piercing, way-too-loud, too-much-treble vocal mix in the theatre's P.A. system. And after a half an hour of that mess, the crowd was sick of it. After Yung L.A.'s final song--which he called his "big hit" even though no one in the crowd recognized it--the audience booed the rapper and his crew off the stage, even as he pleaded with the audience, "Y'all know what it is, request that song!"
It was pretty ugly stuff.
Then, ten minutes later, Chief came out. Though previously unannounced on the bill, the crowd roared as T.I.'s DJ introduced him--and the audience rose to its feet appreciatively as he launched into his own hit, "My Swagg". It was quite the thrilling moment: Here the crowd was, ready to turn on the night, and a local rapper stepped in to save the day.
Unfortunately, it also may have been the most exciting moment of the night.
Despite an eviable stage presence and a way with the crowd, T.I.'s performance too came off a little dry. Clad, as usual, in an Atlanta Braves baseball cap, T.I. swaggered about the stage, dancing to the beat and fiercely delivering his rhymes--thankfully, to a much-improved vocal mix--but something was amiss. Between the bare-bones stage set-up (just a table with some turntables on it for the DJ) and T.I.'s too-frequent asides to the crowd, it was tough for the performance to gain any traction.
Still, the rapper pressed on, entertaining for over an hour, performing both the deeper cuts from his records and the many hits he boasts ("Rubberband Man", "Bring Em Out", "U Don't Know Me", "Why You Wanna", "Big Things Poppin'", "Whatever You Like", "Live Your Life", "Swagga Like Us", "Dead and Gone"). The sheer number of those hits was impressive--and a reminder of why T.I. is deservedly considered as talented an MC as any other rapper out there today.
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Given those accolades, though, the stage set-up was incredibly underwhelming--a far cry from the elaborate set-up Lil Wayne boasted earlier this year at his American Airlines Center performance. Though T.I. may be able to keep pace with Wayne on his recorded material, he's clearly fallen behind his competition in the performance realm.
Personal Bias: Until last night, I was a firm believer that T.I. is every bit the rapper--if not a flat-out better rapper--than Lil Wayne, the self proclaimed "greatest rapper alive". After last night's performance, I'm not too sure any more. I will, however, maintain that T.I.'s pop sensibilities far outreach those of Wayne.
By The Way: One of T.I.'s hypemen on this tour (or, at least, at this show) was one of the troubled young men T.I. met through his MTV show, Road to Redemption. "I'm trying to keep him out of trouble," T.I. said as he introduced him to the crowd. And, actually, the kid was OK at it--even when he proudly (and ironically?) boasted to the crowd that there'd be an after-party for the show at Ghostbar.
Random Note: At one point during the show, a local reverend--but I didn't catch who--presented T.I. with a "Movement in Music" award.