The BET Experience filled the LA Live venues in downtown Los Angeles for the third consecutive year on June 27 with one of the high lights being the anticipated reunion of Compton based rap group NWA- minus the late great Eazy E. Additional performers included Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and his Top Dawg Entertainment label mates Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q.
Kendrick Lamar’s groups filled the beginning of this west coast bonanza with straight thug rappers Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, who each came out in plain white tees, jeans and chucks. One thing that can be said about Jay Rock was that he came out and did his thing. He didn’t stumble, mumble or strain in his mission. If you loved any one of these artists, you were not disappointed. But if you expect a little flair and showmanship, look to different artists. Ab soul was the third artist, and his show was conducted in similar fashion.
“I didn’t even rehearse,” said Ab Soul during his performance. “This is straight west coast.” Will this lack of respect for the live show, even if it is just an act, hold these new artists back or will their music launch them above the rest, as is the case of Lamar?
One thing that can be said about Lamar’s label is that he is loyal to his artists. When he performs so do they. They are getting plenty of good venues and performance opportunities that are the highest of quality. That speaks volumes about Lamar’s loyalty and business acumen.
Schoolboy Q, the most animated of the opening artists, also sporting the most fans and name recognition, thanks to chart his topping 2014 album ‘Oxymoron’ that hit #1 on both US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and US Billboard 200, emerged on stage. However unlike his label mates, his show was both longer and a lot more animated, jumping around the stage with the entire Staples Center audience jumping in unison.
Schoolboy Q’s ‘Collard Greens’ track came on and the whole stadium woke up. It’s obvious what a killer track and a hit single will do for your live show. “Drop that, oh, luxury, chatty city bang bang, Collard Greens!” When will the other artists on Lamar’s label catch up?
“Just sitting in the studio, just tryin’ to get to you baby. This song is so f—in’ dope, it’s hard for me not to blaze it.” These lyrics ring true, as the crowd virtually sung the song for Schoolboy Q, and he sung the ad-libs until the second verse.
As plain as Kendrick Lamar’s wardrobe is, the live band backing up his strong vocals really bring allot of life to his live show and force the listener to focus on his lyrical content. As expected, the crowd immediately jumped to their feet at the first sounds of ‘Money Trees.’
Hands stayed waving in the air, along with thick whiffs of smoke and Lamar’s lyrics seemed incomprehensible yet those who shared the smoky sticks sung each lyric as he did. There was no babysitting, they poured up, drank, but had not yet reclined in the swimming pools that Lamar mentioned in his song. They sat down, stood up, drunk and then the track switched to rock for the third verse and back to an ad-libbed cover of A$AP Rocky’s ‘F—in’ Problem,’ one of the benefits of performing with a live band that can get down.
Comparing Lamar’s performance in 2015 to his performance in 2013’s BET Experience, in the same venue, reveals real growth, both as a performer as well as a lyricist. Having more hits and having established himself as one of the best MCs out has to be a confidence booster, as today he’s ranked up there with Ice Cube, Snoop-Lion and 2-Pac. He could have easily headlined this event instead of following his artist just as he did in 2013, Jay-Z’s Freedom Fest and any other time he has performed in a big venue. If he continues on his path of hits and quality studio albums, in addition continues to improve his live show like he has, surely he will surpass the likes of Snoop, Cube, Nas and other top shelf MCs over the next few years, as the only thing separating Lamar and the rest are sheer numbers in terms of album sales, number of albums made and years in the game on top. Another surprising aspect of Lamar’s music is the lyrical content, in particular, the ability to create song concepts that the masses can relate to on more than one level.
The Lady of Rage kicking introduced Snoop Dogg. Following the newer, arguably better, tracks of Lamar, the old-school antics of Snoop Dogg seemed elementary, if not immature. Yet, anyone will remain true to the more memorable aspects of their childhood and most of those in attendance grew up on Snoop and his style cannot be denied. His show was filled with throw-backs from his earlier works with Dr. Dre, Warren G, and the late Nate Dog.
‘Murder was the Case’ found Snoop standing center stage allowing his classic story about selling his soul for fame to take over the show. Although he continues to stick to the west coast tradition of having all the homies on stage assisting in the performance, his ‘assistants’ understand when to yell and get hype and when to close their mouths and step into the background.
Like Lamar, Snoop stays down with his loved ones that he came up with inviting back Rage for another solo performance, giving a shot out to Nate Dog and performing ‘It ain’t no Fun’ with fellow lyricist Kurupt.
Following that song was Snoops cousin, Warren G, who came out to perform ‘This DJ,’ and to the crowds delight Too Short came out and performed ‘Blow the Whistle’.
As usual Too Short style, he emerged flanked by three hip hop dancing, fly girls, who did the most on stage making this a true classic, West Coast Hip Hop show. All the homies don’t need to be seen as A-Town came out and performed ‘Da Birds are Chirping’ taking all the hype energy out of the show, forcing Snoop to go back into his old school sack and roll out another story filled hit such as ‘Doggy-dogg World’ with Kurupt and Daz Dillinger.
Curiously missing from Snoop’s show are the hits that he composed while on Master P’s No Limit Records including an absence of tracks from his ‘Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told’ in 1998, ‘No Limit Top Dogg’ in 1999 and ‘Tha Last Meal’ in 2000 albums. He did, however, return to his more contemporary work with Pharrell Williams, who did not make an appearance, but Snoop still performed ‘Drop it like It’s Hot’ as an exit song.
Headlining the event was the most dangerous rap crew, NWA, led by Ice Cube. Cube did not disappoint having no problem with delivery or any qualms regarding continuing to promote the gangster image, standing between two seven foot tall hands with the fingers twisted to form the ‘West Coast’ hand sign. Cube performed with MC Ren and DJ Yella.
“It was real cool to be onstage with him again, but that’s still been 15 years ago,” Ice Cube said about performing with MC Ren and DJ Yella.
During one part of the concert, Cube and the other NWA rappers emerged from a police car under the Staples Center jumbo-tron that flashed scenes of police violence including clips from the Ferguson Protests, and even the McKinney, Texas incident.
“[Ice Cube] was cool, but he always performs the same way and always has on that same jersey,” said April Holliman of Los Angeles. “He has evolved from rap, so it’s time to pass the torch to his son, which is what he is doing. He did that and mastered it.”
Being an excellent business man and looking to the future, Cube brought out his son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. who performed the track ‘Straight Out of Compton.’ Jackson Jr. will also be starring as Ice Cube in the upcoming biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton.’
“The NWA reunion will never be complete without Eazy E,” said Felicia ‘The Poetess’ Morris, a journalist from Los Angeles, “but I do think it’s a great thing if the remaining members reunited.”