Live Report: Elements of Hip-Hop Tour - Rolling Stone
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Live Report: Elements of Hip-Hop Tour

Tramps, New York, January 20, 1998

Club soundmen are rarely called on to mix eight turntables, so the
crowd gathered at Tramps Tuesday night to see the Elements of
Hip-Hop Tour wasn’t all that upset about the short delay due to
technical difficulties. Indeed, the booing only started when an
unnamed MC started rapping before the X-Ecutioners set about a
“real freaky bitch” who “comes out at night.”

For a musical genre still thought of as cutting edge, hip-hop
artists and audiences are hyper-concerned with upholding tradition,
and talking smack about freaky bitches was not a tradition this
particular crowd wanted to uphold. Instead, the Elements of Hip-Hop
Tour — a three-week tour featuring Chicago rapper Common, New York
turntablists the X-Ecutioners and Roots member Rahzel — was all
about musical tradition: human beatboxing, spinning the wheels of
steel, MC-ing in front of a live band and collaborating with old
friends.

Rahzel kicked things off with forty-five minutes of
beatboxing, eliminating any doubts as to whether the vocal
technique can be as subtle and sophisticated as any instrument by
simultaneously imitating deep bass lines, chest-thumping kick
drums, echoing snare shots and ticking hi-hats. Once establishing a
groove, he began, quite unbelievably, to sing or rap over it,
thrilling the crowd. His mimicry of vinyl scratching, of turntables
slowing down or speeding up, of little dogs barking — of almost
anything — was so exact and wide-ranging that it seemed he could
record an album as dense as “It Takes a Nation of Millions…” with just a
four-track.

Element number two, spinning records, is the province of the
X-Ecutioners (formerly the X-Men until threatened with legal
action). Sharing the stage with a group of rappers trading off
rhymes on two mikes, the four turntablists unleashed a dense
torrent of murky funk reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew.” Spinning records
is a physical act, and each of the X-Ecutioners wowed the crowd by
scratching behind backs and over shoulders, creating a pastiche of
unknown and familiar beats and hooks.

X-Ecutioner Mista Sinista returned to the stage
for headliner Common’s set, joining a loose, blues-inflected band
of drums, piano, double bass and acoustic guitar. Working the stage
in a green, knee-length raincoat and a cap pulled down over his
ears, Common (“See-to-the-oh-double-em-oh-en,” for spelling
enthusiasts) flowed in an easygoing, conversational style while
spinning his performance conceit: the Hotel Common, where guests
are encouraged to enjoy the myriad moods while respecting their
neighbors.

Songs at the Hotel Common lasted only a verse or two, which
kept the pace fresh and lively, and a guest appearance by De la
Soul ended the show on a sustained note of committed collaboration.
But Common’s best moment occurred during “I Used to Love H.e.r.,”
about a relationship attenuated by money and fame. Wedging jazzy
instrumental choruses between spoken verses, Common and his band
elevated their hip-hop, and pointed a way to an organic future by
drawing on a shared musical

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