It's inevitable that a hip-hop artist considered underground or alternative will be tapped as an opener for an established "old-school" artist. At first blush this tactic seems like a good idea. The golden age of hip-hop represents the "real hip-hop" and underground or alternative hip-hop artists are coming from that same mindset. Sounds good, but in practice it never works out quite right. Case in point: Last November, Brother Ali, a respected artist on the Rhymesayers label opened for, Rakim. The crowd of old school veterans didn’t know what to make of Brother Ali. I don't have hard evidence to back up this assertion, but I'd be surprised if 1% of the audience had ever heard of the big albino spitting rhymes. Brother Ali received a smattering of boos, which he quickly quelled with a hard free-style. It's clear that Brother Ali fans listen to Rakim, and Rakim fans do not listen to Brother Ali.
Which leads us to underground artist, Pigeon John, who last month opened for Slick Rick at the Knitting Factory. Once again, your gut reaction says this makes sense. Two emcees who possess a party vibe and an ability to turn a phrase. (Not to imply Pigeon John is on Rick's level.) Similar to Brother Ali, the crowd didn’t know what to make of John's tall gangly frame, which was adorned with a sweater vest, plaid shirt, Chuck Taylors, khakis and a calculator watch. A few heads in the audience couldn't fathom that this person was a rapper, let alone Pigeon John. Others dismissed him unequivocally and marked their protest by staking out a spot at the bar. Two thirds of the way through his set, amidst a bewildered and confused crowd, John started to win a majority of the people over. His incessant energy, thumping beats and capable flow started to work the crowd over something good. Unfortunately, all was lost when John offered forty dollars to the first person who would get naked on stage. As luck would have it some dude ran up on stage, and with John's tacit approval proceeded to let it all hang out. A few old-school heads in attendance almost had a coronary and two older gentlemen waiting for the Skull Snaps looked at each other in disbelief wondering if they were in the right club.
The naked dude aside, I do commend John for trying to shock the old school heads in attendance out of their prison like comfort zone. Unfortunately, it's that buck-the-trend attitude that works against a lot of underground artists such as Pigeon John. John was trying too hard to eschew the classic hip-hop stereotypes and as a consequence he created a persona that came of slightly unbelievable, if not annoying. But let’s not get twisted. John brought A TON of energy to the stage which in turn converted more than a few attendees. As John's set came to a close he bounced off the stage and left a crowd filled mostly with smiles and more than a few people scratching their heads. In that sense, his performance was a triumph.
Thanks for ruining my shot.