NEW YORK — A multiethnic and mixed-age crowd filed into Manhattan's Webster Hall on Tuesday night to feast their eyes and ears on the newly re-elected king of New York rap, Nas.
The radio-sponsored "Fan Appreciation Concert" was Nas' first show in the city in almost four years (though he has performed recently in Long Island and neighboring New Jersey), and the crowd's excitement was palpable on the streets outside and inside the cavernous venue.
DJ Kay Slay kept the packed house at bay for more than an hour and a half, until finally, just as concertgoers' expectations began turning into frustration, the lights dimmed and Nas stormed onstage to the thundering beat of "The Cross," the latest cut off God's Son, which dropped Friday (see "Nas Doesn't Mind Bootleg Hassle Over God's Son").
But while the Eminem-produced opening track had the crowd clamoring for more from the new album, Nas used the momentum to move backward in time, launching into his 2001 single "Got Ur Self A ..." and then inviting the captive audience to "go back to 1994" with Illmatic's "The World Is Yours." To the delight of many hardcore Nas fans, the Queensbridge lyricist basked in the past, performing a number of older songs, including "N.Y. State of Mind" and an AZ-less version of "Life's a Bitch."
In many ways, the evening reflected hip-hop's golden era of the 1990s. Dressed appropriately for the wintry weather outside, Nas sported an all-black Carhartt suit with matching knit cap, reminiscent of the industrial-strength fashions he wore in his 1994 "It Ain't Hard to Tell" video.
And while many current hip-hop concerts feature mirror-trimmed theatrical sets and pyrotechnic displays, Nas' stage show consisted of little more than three hype men (also known as the Bravehearts: Jungle, Wiz and Nashawn), longtime DJ L.E.S. (who worked a digital replay machine rather than turntables) and a gaggle of entourage members who filled the back of the stage.
After whizzing through shortened versions of hits like Stillmatic's "Rewind" and "You're Da Man," Nas started bringing the concert to a climax. Dimming the house lights and dropping to his knees, he performed "One Mic" with eyes closed, bellowing each word as if in a feverish trance.
Nas' eyes were wide open, though, when he performed a rousing rendition of his Jay-Z-targeting tirade "Ether," which launched the audience into a pro-Nas frenzy. Hip-hop pioneer DMC of Run-DMC put the crowd's sentiment into words when he surprised Nas by joining him onstage, announcing, "There are lots of rappers who are ... making money out here, but Nas has been doing this for years, dropping knowledge."
Nas humbly accepted the praise before proclaiming DMC his musical hero: "This is my Michael Jackson, [Run-DMC] are my Rolling Stones."
Then, without skipping a beat, Nas carried the crowd down memory lane, segueing from DMC's speech to his old-school-made-new-school anthem, "Made You Look." Nas brought out special guests Ludacris and Jadakiss to perform the "Made You Look" remix as a final treat for his devoted fans, who returned the love by sending him off with chants of "Braavehearts, Braavehearts, Braavehearts ..."
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.