Photos by Karma Neff
To attend The Jones Experience, a hip-hop show headlined by Nasir “Nas” Jones (above) and opened by Talib Kweli, at Warehouse Live Monday evening meant one specific thing: pledging allegiance to a distinct strain of hip-hop that goes by many terms - purist, boom-bap, conscious, etc.- but is better experienced live. It also meant you missed on Internet and left-of-center hip-hop darling Jay Electronica, who sat this show out.
And if you didn't get it, the opening DJ's warm-up set made the sentiment clear: heavy on the East Coast stuff, light on anything post-1994, packed with songs you knew the words to backwards and forwards. "You said you wanted hip-hop, motherfuckers," said the guy charged with whipping you into a mild fervor. "There it is."
Talib Kweli (center) and Warehouse Live regular Bun B
Talib Kweli may be known to most people as the guy Jay-Z would be if he were as concerned with wordplay as with making money, but to believers, Kweli is simply a few miracles short of a messiah. Tellingly, his "Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (Deliver Us)," from last year's Eardrum, got him his solo biggest response of the night. (His true fever pitch moment came when he played Pimp C's verse from UGK's "International Players" and then brought out special guest Bun B.)
Kweli is often (rightfully) criticized for being too wordy in his raps, but as a live performer, his street polemics are a delivered with an authoritative boom that doesn't get captured in his recordings. And when he left the stage, the crowd chanted his name. Like, really.
Yet Kweli worship pales in comparison to the rapture caused by Nas, a man who is viewed simultaneously as prophet, messiah and deity. And it's by no mistake. For nine studio albums, Nas has played himself up as many things, offering muddled thoughts and astounding observations in equal measure.
"I don't believe in politics," he said onstage. "I believe in the people." (Just the type of thing you'd expect from a politician.)
Despite his latest album largely being an invective against racial discrimination and hypocrisy (we think), Nas had fun. He smiled with genuine joy and even took subtle jabs at his less-than-popular incarnations by using cringe-worthy moments like "Nastradmus" and "You Owe Me" as quicker-than-quick segues between the mini-sets culled from nearly every corner of his career (including just about everything from his seminal debut, Illmatic).
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Still, he basked in the exaltation, commanding the crowd through lyrical diatribes against Fox News Corp.; fully getting into character for "Hero." He could have only created more ecstasy had he brought out Lauryn Hill, who dueted with him on 1996's "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)."
Instead, Nas, when performing that number, held to the mic the crowd. Not satisfied with preaching to the choir, he allowed them some temporary transcendence to the Jones Experience. When it came time for Hill's ending riff, voices soared, raising the roof enough to harbinger the second coming. If he weren't already onstage, of course. – Kris Ex