with Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Dave Chappelle & Jay-Z
Radio City Music Hall, NYC, May 19, 2006
I'm speechless. Well, almost. Last night's show at Radio City Music Hall was totally unforgettable. From the moment I walked in with ?uestlove & the Roots' front line marching band, to the moment I walked out with an elated crowd after an encore that featured "Encore," by Jay-Z himself, it would forever go down in my mind as one of the hardest-to-beat evenings in hip-hop.
I've spent the last 6 or 7 years having near misses with The Roots. Every time they were playing my town, I'd be out of town. Every time I'd head to a new town, they would have just played the night before, or would be arriving the night after I was to depart. It started to feel like a cruel joke of fate. But finally, my luck changed. And if I could only catch one show, this was the show to see, no doubt.
A steady cavalcade of guests included DJ Jazzy Jeff, Angelique Kidjo, Mos Def, J. Davey, Dave Chappelle, Bilal, Erykah Badu, and finally, the afore-mentioned CEO of hip-hop, Jay-Z. Backstage were Queen Latifah, and purportedly, Beyonce. But the real stars of the evening were the Roots crew, led by musical mastermind, ?uestlove on drums.
I've been a Roots fan for years, but they still managed to be a revelation. I've always known they were an accomplished group of musicians, being one of the only true bands in the universe of hip-hop. Even so, I never quite appreciated how versatile they are. They flowed seamlessly from hip-hop and hard-core rap to R&B backing band, and back again. Their skills with improvisation are formidable, and it's a joy to watch ?uest on his drum riser in the background conducting like some modern evolution of the Big Band era.
The biggest standouts for me were, by far, Mos Def and Erykah Badu. I'm already biased with a massive admiration for Mos as an actor. But this was my first time ever seeing him perform in the milieu in which he got his start. I'll admit I was expecting him to be rusty, but could I have been more wrong? He came correct with freestyling that was on point, and the flow he traded with Tariq took the show to the next level. And who knew the boy could sing? I mean really sing! I certainly didn't.
Not only did he light up the stage with his charisma, but the Brooklyn boy seemed to glow with the thrill of playing Radio City Music Hall. No matter how many A-listers he may have on his cell, it was performing on this stage that made him feel like he'd really arrived. He was like a little boy who could think of no better way to express his elation than by running all the way to the back of the hall among the fans with a shit-eating grin on his face.
And how else can I put it than that Erykah Badu is a force of nature. Black Thought had it right when he called her the Queen, even with Queen Latifah standing in the wings. Meaning no disrespect, of course. I've always loved her first album, but haven't been a big fan of her subsequent releases. Now that I've witnessed her virtuosity in person, I pledge that I will always catch her concerts every time she ever performs live in my town in the future. She is that incredible.
My only complaint of the evening was a desire to see more of the Roots' own frontman, Black Thought (Tariq), do more time with the mic. It was fantastic to see how the Roots crew can work so flawlessley with the playas they most respect. But why let unknown newcomers like J. Davey bring the show to a grinding halt when we could have had more of you, Tariq? Crying shame.
The three-hour show was a tour de force. And what more fitting post script than to have Jay-Z appear during the encore? He literally brought the house down around our ears. I've rarely seen a crowd react like that, in all my years of concert-going. His potency is something to behold.