Rap Space

"We're gonna see if we can get a thousand people in here tonight," said the guy who emceed the Roots concert at Club Waxx last March. Although the auto-garage-turned-hip-hop-spot wasn't filled to a thousand (management estimated it was half that), the wall-to-wall patronage certainly gave that impression.

For a while there, people were wondering whether the Roots, which was on tour promoting its Things Fall Apart album, was going to show up in Houston at all. It had a venue for every city and date -- except Houston. Flyers for the show started circulating only a week beforehand. While one source claims the band was booked about three or four weeks in advance at Club Waxx, the management begs to differ. "We kinda got the show at the last minute," says Mike Jacksis, the 28-year-old owner of Club Waxx. "You know, like really the last, last minute."

In preparation, Jacksis and crew organized an all-out party. Originally, patrons were going to go through the back patio area, where a couple of DJs would be spinning records. Then, people were going to walk through the club while the Roots and other performers were on stage. But on the day of the show, not everything went as planned. The patio wasn't set up correctly, so all concertgoers had to wait up front. There was a mix-up with the DJs, who didn't show. And let's not forget the overwhelming number of people, both die-hard Roots fans and people just checking out all the fuss, who were in attendance. Was it no wonder halfway through the Roots' set, a fire marshal shut down the place and told everybody to clear out for 50 minutes? Fortunately, the Roots did come back to perform in the wee hours.

Despite the show's missteps, Jacksis and his club managed to take in $2,000 when it was all over, and that includes ticket sales at the door and bar bills. "But, in my opinion," says Jacksis, "I wish I could've provided a better atmosphere for everybody."

We can't all have what we wish for. If rap fans did, many of the rap shows that have come to this town would've been done a lot more smoothly. Although the Roots show wasn't a complete disaster, its lack of preparation and direction is indicative of the many rap performances that occur (and sometimes don't occur) in Houston. There have been rap shows that have been apparent fiascoes because of low ticket sales, like last year's Smokin' Grooves Concert at the AstroArena, which played to an underwhelming 3,000 fans (less than half the total that attended each of the two previous Smokin' Grooves shows at the Woodlands Pavilion).

There are some that do well financially but often end in bad vibes. The Master P/No Limit show at the Compaq Center last year brought in 13,000 fans and made it one of the biggest-grossing shows in the history of the decades-old arena. But outside, another show was happening. About 200 people had pushed their way into the venue, causing minor injuries to some of the people working the concert. If that wasn't enough, gunshots rang out. People went on a stampede. About 100 police officers had to be called in to cover the area. DeAndra Edwards, an assistant at Rap-A-Lot Records, says outbursts like that are inevitable at a highly touted concert. "That could've taken place anywhere," says Edwards. "Trouble is trouble. It's gonna come here, it's gonna come there. I mean, it happened in Colorado, it'll happen at a rap concert. That's just something that happens."

But, all the negative commotion aside, does rap music have suitable venues in Houston? There are those in the industry who believe that when it comes to live rap and hip-hop, Houston is a functional locale. "I think Houston is a very tolerable city as far as allowing artists to come in and play," says Chris Doss, director of promotions and marketing at the local Ticketmaster administrative office. But there are those who still don't know what to make of the city's attitude toward rap music. Says Club Waxx owner Jacksis: "Houston's really weird as far as the [hip-hop] scene goes. We've had groups that didn't do as well as they anticipated, and it kinda leaves, I guess, a bad taste in their mouths about Houston's hip-hop scene or whatever."

And not just any rap/hip-hop performer can come here, find a spot to perform and sell out the joint. Unless it's Lauryn Hill, of course. The cold, hard truth of it is, if you're hot, you're hot. If you're not, well, you certainly won't be selling out the Compaq Center. Like many other Top 40 performers, the big names gets served up the big venues, like the Compaq Center or the Aerial Theater or, if they really got it going on, the Woodlands Pavilion. At the request of their record labels or management companies, these successful rappers often buddy up and go on "package tours," concert shows that regularly feature six or seven acts on the same bill. This year's KBXX-FM's Box Birthday Bash featured "Hard Knock Life" tourmates Jay-Z, DMX, Redman and Method Man, all from Def Jam Records. "Obviously, when you put a whole bunch of top acts together," says Doss, "they're gonna get a bigger bang; they'll make a bigger splash."

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey