THE ONE: Ne-Yo all up in the matrix, Powerhouse 2007, Wachovia Center.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER ‘Nothing succeeds like success’ may well be a cliche but that doesn’t make it any less true, especially in the hip-hop world where sales is artistry. And that’s pretty much how things went down Friday night at the Wachovia Center when radio station Power 99 hosted Powerhouse 2007, a nearly six-hour revue-style parade of major hip-hop artists — some on their way up, others on their way back down. Kanye West, currently the king of the hip-hop hill, headlined with great artistic pomp and circumstance, while 50-Cent was relegated to an unannounced mid-show cameo.
“They didn’t tell ya I was coming?” Fiddy asked, in between grabbing his crotch and barking unintelligibly through sub-prime fare like “Money In the Bank.” Recently bested by West when both rappers chose to release their new albums on September 11th, Fiddy seems doomed to become the Mike Tyson of rap: A magnificent specimen of brawn without the wit or wisdom to evolve and adapt to the world shifting beneath his feet.
In between this clash of the titans, ascendant R&B Casanova Ne-Yo cemented his rep as a square-jawed, sweet-tongued loverman with a voice that melts butter; long missing in action Philly homeboy Cassidy, flanked onstage with a ridiculously large 25-man posse, fiercely asserted that he may be down, but he ain’t out (he especially wanted to remind the ladies that he “still got room keys”); and former homegirl Eve phoned it in like an MC long-since bored with the rap game and secretly longing to transition full time outta rap and into film and fashion.
Kanye may have the biggest ego in rap, but as a live performer he literally puts his money where his always-running mouth is. At no time in recent memory has rap had a leading man as smart, stylish, artsy, iconoclastic and, most importantly, Midas Touch-successful as Kanye West. Truly, this man is an artist — and, unlike most of rap’s straw men, not just in the contractual sense. No, scratch that: He is more than just an artist, he is an auteur.
Stylishly macked-out in a black military tunic and a black-and-white keffiyeh around his neck, West certified his rep as a convincing live performer with a flair for the dramatic the moment he emerged center stage Friday night from cloud of smoke, backed by a ten piece band, including a full string section composed of stylish women seemingly plucked from a Robert Palmer video. “This is the story of a champion,” he said over slamming drums and a warbly loop of Steely Dan, and nobody was in any mood to argue with him. After grandstanding through “Jesus Walks,” West was joined onstage by locals Beanie Sigel and Freeway who lent “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” a thuggish patina of Philly-style street cred, which was followed up with a cakewalk through the sunny Ray Lite of “Goldigger” — and for a brief and shining moment, all seemed right with the world.
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THE BREAKDOWN: WHO RUNS PHILLY?
BY M. EMANUEL From the BREAKDOWN’s perspective, Powerhouse 2007 can best be summed up in the words of Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, Danny Glover’s time tested and battle weary character from the Lethal Weapon series: I’m too old for this…you know the rest. Hip-hop, and music in general, has become a kid’s show. Between Hannah Montana selling out the Wachovia Center faster than the legendary and incomparable, Stevie Wonder, to Lil’ Wayne being anointed the hottest rapper in the game, it’s apparent that youth reigns dominate. Powerhouse was no different as the bill included a few up and comers, a couple of established vets, a legend (possibly two) in the making and some folks we probably won’t remember this time next year — yes, I’m talking about Souljah Boy. But instead of lamenting on the state of music, the BREAKDOWN will instead sum up the ’07 rendition of Powerhouse with 10 things learned from the show.
1. It doesn’t pay to get to hip-hop shows on time. Traditionally the show NEVER starts on time. Fortunately for the faithful and the timely, DJing is a founding element of hip hop because it’s usually a DJ that keeps one occupied and mildly attentive until your favorite MC decides to show up. As for Powerhouse, I trusted my gut and got to the show late. So while I can’t vouch for whether they started at 6pm on the dot or not, my gamble paid off. Yes, on the downside, I did miss Rihanna and her Um-ba-rella, but if I had arrived on time I would have been at the venue for well over six hours. I’m all for getting your money’s worth, but that’s way too long to spend at one show. Some of us have things to do, like go to the after-party.
2. You don’t have to actually be able to sing to be an R&B singer. Ironic, I know, but anyone who thought that was Akon actually singing must not own his album. Akon should be thankful for digital technology. For anyone who missed his performance, don’t fret, there isn’t much difference between the CD and the live performance other than a pointless story about dating a stripper.
3. Hip Hop has an unhealthy fascination with Rims. Where else could one go where a new set of rims is given away as a door prize. Yes. Powerhouse 2007. And no, I did not win.
4. Ne-yo is really talented. Already coveted by just about everyone in the industry for his song writing prowess, the Matrix-inspired crooner did his best to make those Michael Jackson-esque comparisons, while not completely accurate, not completely baseless either.
5. As my homey M. Woodson pointed out: Power 99 helped put the Hypocrisy in Hip hop. After an almost moving call to action to stop the gun violence in Philadelphia, replete with the “raise your cell phone so it lights up the arena” tribute of the moment, Power99 insulted all of those affected by the violence by inviting special guest 50 Cent to perform right after the call to action. 50 Cent, never one to shy from a few shots, made sure to incorporate the sound of gunfire into his audio effects and took aim at everyone performing that night, including the show’s headliner, Kanye West. Way to promote positivity 99.
6.0 Anyone over the age of 18 should not “crank dat” Souljah Boy. After witnessing an arena full of people — young and old alike — Superman-ing that and super-soaking this, I’ve decided that there should be a moratorium on the dance for anyone over the age of 18. No exceptions.
6.1 Souljah Boy, however, is not for the kids. The BREAKDOWN thought the guy who made up a dance for the kids was really for the kids…that was until his profanity laced tirade about being labeled a “ringtone” rapper. Well, if the shoe fits, you gotta wear it, dawg.
7. 50 cent has lost his mind and he’s beginning to lose the unconditional support of his fan base. 50, invited as a special surprise guest to replace T.I. (who is currently locked up on gun charges) took time to mock Kanye during the show by donning ‘Ye’s max headroom inspired shades from the Stronger video and making a few not so subtle jabs at Kanye’s sexual preference. While erroneously declaring himself #1, 50’s Kanye dis was not only unprovoked, but unnecessary and by the time his performance was over it was apparent from the smattering of boos that Curtis hadn’t just lost the first week sales battle but may be well on his way to Ja-ruling his own career.
8. Swizz Beats should stay behind the boards and produce. After watching his performance, it’s apparent that he doesn’t have too much to say beyond the strength of his production. Swizz’s live set wasn’t terribly impressive, and it relied on the star power of Eve and the hometown love for Philly’s own Cassidy to keep it from being completely boring.
9. Everyone wants to be King. The latest “debate,” is who runs Philly. Apparently Cassidy thinks this is his city. But Beanie Sigel, during an impromptu guest appearance during Kanye’s set, declared that the Wachovia Center was his house and that he was King of the city. I’m sure Mike Nutter would beg to differ.
10. Kanye is one of the most talented hip hop artists out right now and his live show doesn’t disappoint. Kanye brought the theatrics, with live orchestral backing, passionate delivery and more smoke machines than the Miami Hurricanes in their heyday. All furthering the argument that he could reach legendary status…provided that the hip hop generation grows with him.