HOLLYWOOD — Redman crashed the Lyricist Lounge Tour on Tuesday, igniting the hip-hop showcase with star power and some much-needed variety.
A half-full, half-asleep House of Blues crowd awoke when the rapper joined Erick Sermon onstage for a rendition of their single, "React."
Redman, who was originally scheduled to co-headline the tour but pulled out to finish his next album, continued to provoke an audience frenzy as he danced and tossed in lines for a few more Sermon numbers. With his distinguishable delivery, the real dirt in Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" was a welcome standout from the dozen MCs on the mic before him.
As Sermon's set came to a close and his posse began clearing out, Redman darted back to center stage to rap along to Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," which was playing over the house speakers. As the audience got louder, he tossed in more and more ad-libs, eventually provoking Sermon to take a verse.
Another surprise guest, recent Eminem nemesis Benzino, did little for the crowd with his two-song performance, despite his claim that he's been "representing the West Coast on the East Coast" for years.
In between Benzino's and Sermon's sets, hosts Danny Castro and Anthony Marshall, who founded Lyricist Lounge events in 1991, invited a few audience members to freestyle onstage. Like Redman's appearance, both amateurs — a New Jersey man with a Jamaican style and a German woman with a sound all her own — were well received, but the evening was otherwise by the books.
Bleste Nation opened the show and immediately tried to capture the sparse audience by asking, "Does anyone want some free sh--?"
Apparently the crowd was hungry for swag, as people never tired of reaching out for every performer's handout T-shirts and CDs.
Beginning with a track that sampled "Tainted Love" and included a shout-out to Tenacious D, Bleste Nation danced the thin line between being gangsta and being a novelty. One of the rappers, whose striking similarities to Andy Dick worked against him, won over listeners with a crisp and witty style, particularly during an a capella freestyle.
Poverty followed with what proved to be the evening's most inspired set. Over Alchemist beats, he propelled his raps with angst, coming off like a white DMX. "This is real hip-hop, this ain't Crystal bullsh--," he said before "For My People," featuring the tell-all line "They say life is sweet/ But it tastes plain to me."
"F--- the stage," Poverty said mid-set as he walked into the crowd for an entire song. "I'm not better than you." While the audience appeared a bit stunned at first, people warmed up and eventually embraced him as he returned to the stage.
Like Poverty, both of the next two acts, Grafh and Killah Priest, rapped over CD tracks rather than a DJ spinning vinyl, taking away from the spirit of the Lyricist Lounge, which is meant to celebrate the foundations of hip-hop.
Still, they found ways to connect — Grafh by getting down and dirty with his lyrics, Killah by beatboxing over the skilled singers in his posse.
Grafh showed some charm with his wide smile and obnoxious humor ("Romeo and Bow Wow are [sleeping with] the Olsen twins," he revealed in one rap), but took it too far when he singled out a woman in the crowd (with a man on her arm) and tried to romance her by singing, "Will we be f---ing tonight?"
Priest tried hard to promote his upcoming Black August, but got the biggest reaction with material from his solo debut, Heavy Mental.
Sermon's set started slow but picked up when he began paying tribute to several lost icons, including Jam Master Jay, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Roger Troutman, by rapping over some of their memorable tracks. When Sermon mentioned Marvin Gaye, the audience roared, correctly sensing the single "Music" coming up.
Headliner Scarface also came out in chill mood, rapping without a hype man or posse over laid-back beats. His set received a shot of adrenaline thanks to the concrete voice of Willie D and sweet sound of Bushwick Bill, who took the stage for a Geto Boys reunion that included "Mind Playing Tricks on Me."
Once their hit was past them, the show's energy dropped off and ended with an anticlimactic half-version of Scarface's "My Block."
Before the show, founders Castro and Marshall complained that some venues haven't been promoting the tour correctly but said they're more interested in giving rappers the experience than making a profit.
"People knowing how to perform is important," Castro said. "People are not appreciating [that] as much as they did five years ago."
Castro and Marshall are planning short tours next year with artists ranging from Das EFX to the Youngbloods, along with a third Lyricist Lounge CD. The duo also hope to revive "The Lyricist Lounge" TV show that once aired on MTV.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.