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Is It Live?

by BC on October 7, 2009

Live hip-hop. I prefer mine with DJ’s, as opposed to live backing bands. It was kind of cool to see a live band every once and a while, but I’ll take a good DJ any day.

What makes a great show? To me it’s energy and the ability to work the crowd. I see a lot of award shows where people perform and they just stand there. Why would anyone want to go and see that “live”? I’d rather go see Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, at least they do something, even if they are lip-syncing.

Below are some of my favorite live acts (in no particular order) and a couple disappointments, maybe this will help you spend your money in the right places. I jacked some vids from YouTube, as I don’t have an extensive library of taped live performances at my disposal. Go and search for more if you feel like it.

Beastie Boys

Maybe they aren’t underground enough to mention on a hip-hop blog, but for my money, they are by far the most entertaining stage performers that I’ve ever seen. They constantly run around the stage and it probably doesn’t hurt that they have hit after hit after hit to follow along to. Mix Master Mike is an incredible DJ and there’s plenty of old school scratching, which I can never get enough of.

I saw them at Lollapalooza in 1994 and the only thing that brought the show down was the instrumentals. They would get the crowd going and then do 2-3 instrumental songs. I saw them last year and it was straight up 3 MC’s and 1 DJ, the encore was Sabotage and 2 other songs in which they played their respective instruments.

The Roots

They are the obvious exception to my DJ vs. live band issue. I’ve seen them live 3-4 times and they’ve always been on par. The last time I saw them was at First Avenue in Minneapolis. The venue is set up with an upstairs area that overlooks the stage below and there are stairs on both sides leading down to the main level. While waiting for The Roots to come out, all of the sudden there was some noise from above, it was The Roots and they marched through the crowd upstairs to the stairs on the left side of the venue, playing the whole way. All I could see was a tuba jutting out over the people upstairs. They came down the stairs and marched right on stage and immediately went into a song. It would be cooler if I remembered what they went into, but I don’t.

Masta Ace

I’ve only been able to see my favorite rapper once, and it was a free show at some small college in St. Paul. I was lucky to have received an e-mail from Ace’s cousin the day before, otherwise, I wouldn’t have known, as I hadn’t checked the tour page on for a while.

Again, old school crowd rockin’ and a live DJ. Although the crowd was fairly small, as the venue was small, Ace worked the crowd as if there were thousands there. I think that’s the mark of a true professional.

Looks like this video was uploaded to YouTube from an old poster:


I went to see Mr. Lif and was going to stick around and watch MURS for a couple songs and take off. He was so damn good that I stayed for the entire show at 7th Street Entry in MPLS. He had Shock G with him, which was cool, but he also had unlimited energy. He was jumping all over the place and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He also joked about taking his “emo rap” crown back from Slug. Worth the ticket for sure.

This video is decent. When you are at a show, just a little movement (jumping up and down), can keep you amped. He was more animated when I saw him, but this is pretty good for a small stage:

Mac Lethal

I had no interest in seeing him perform as an opener for Atmosphere, but he came on and didn’t stop. This was the first time that I ever bought a CD at a show from someone I never heard before, he was that good.

This vid gives you an idea of what he’s like live. It’s part music video, part discussion I guess:

Method Man

That guy goes nuts. He crowd surfs, raps from the crowd and, in the case of Rock the Bells show I saw, he walks around the venue from a ledge on the main floor.

The sound on this is not great, but you get a real good idea of what he’s like live, crazy:

Honorable Mentions – Mr. Lif/Akrobatik, Fugees (Wyclef doing flips on stage, circe 1996), Busta Rhymes (again 1996, when he was good, in my opinion), Pharoahe Monch (had the live band, good energy), P.O.S. (energy for days)



They put LP’s out on Rhymesayers and I bought the first one. It was okay. This is what can happen if your live show is wack. If they put on a show, I would have gotten their second LP, but because they just stood around, in front of a big crowd (opening before Atmosphere and Mac Lethal), I didn’t bother and won’t.


Man, what a disappointment. No DJ. Just Nas and a tape player. It was like he pressed play and just stood out there and rapped. I saw him at Rock the Bells 2 years ago. Great MC, but I wasn’t impressed with his live show.

Immortal Technique

Rock the Bells again. I don’t have any IT LP’s, but was really looking forward to seeing him perform. He didn’t do a lot, and since he’s so political, he stopped between songs to speak to the crowd about various topics. Still don’t own any IT.


Saw him back in ’01 or ’02. He was the main act and Atmosphere and Aesop Rock opened, in MPLS. I had no idea Atmosphere was from the Twin Cities, but saw how big their following was back then. Anyone, his set seemed okay, but then there w
ere technical difficulties and he ended it, after what seemed to be 20 minutes. This summer, he was in town for Soundset 2009, and he came late. Brother Ali had to start early, then when DOOM finally took the stage, he messed around up there for about 15 minutes (tech difficulties again?). When he came on, he seemed to be doing what many have claimed recently, lip-syncing. It was hard to tell (especially with the mask), so I can’t confirm that. But, he had people that really wanted to see him early on, booing him.

I’ve said this before, I’ll buy his CD’s, because I like his music, but will never waste money to see him live.

Anyway, I can only comment on shows I’ve seen, so if you’ve had different experiences, feel free to share. I’d like to hear what other people have seen and heard.

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Zilla Rocca October 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Best performers I've ever seen in no particular order:

-Aesop Rock
-Masta Ace
-Sean Price
-Beastie Boys
-Little Brother
-Brother Ali


-Cannibal Ox
-Kidz in the Hall
-Joell Ortiz
-Rah Digga

Court October 7, 2009 at 5:37 pm

From what I've heard, you may not have actually seen MF Doom live. Read lots of rumors that he hires someone to put on the mask to do live shows for him.

BC October 7, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Oh yeah, I forgot about Outkast. Good call Zilla.

Red and Meth together has to be crazy. Although, that last album was disappointing.

BC October 7, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I've heard that about DOOM too. I feel like it was him, but you never know with that mask on.

Anonymous October 8, 2009 at 1:26 am

Zilla on point about LB and Ghost. Jean Grae is dope live.Ill Bill from Non Phixion, Zion I and Immortal Tech have dope shows too.

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