NEW YORK — After getting the requisite questions out of the way — “Is Brooklyn in the house?” and “Where my ladies at?” — Jin, the diminutive 20-year-old Chinese rapper and the latest addition to the Ruff Ryders camp, asked a question to the crowd at B.B. King’s, there to see MTV’s You Hear It First Tour: “Where the f— are my Asians at?”
Those in the crowd screamed to make their presence known. “Yeah,” Jin said, “shout out to all nine of ya’ll.”
Jin, dressed in a white Ruff Ryders warm-up jacket with his name embroidered in green on the front said, “Hip-hop is all about interaction. I talk to you, you talk to me.” And he started his set with a call-and-response song called “Oh No!” from his forthcoming debut album, Almost Famous (October 7). Shortly after that, he brought out his “big brother,” fellow Ruff Ryder Drag-On. The two of them performed a freestyle, which ended with the classic hip-hop the “song’s over” sound: shattering glass.
“Who’s drinkin’ tonight?” Jin asked as a segue into the next song, the one where Jin and Drag-On promote Drag’s new material by performing “Put Your Drinks Down,” the first single from his upcoming album, To Hell and Back, due on September 16. “What we gon’ do is party right now. So get out your seats and put your drinks down,” the two chanted.
Next up came “Peel Off” from the “2 Fast 2 Furious” soundtrack, the movie in which Jin appeared as “a fake-ass mechanic.” “Who saw the movie?” he asked. The crowd applauded faintly. “Who’s gonna rent it at Blockbuster?” Another lukewarm reply. “Who’s gonna watch it on UPN when it comes on [on a] Saturday?” The crowd erupted into applause.
After “Peel Off,” Jin took a moment to introduce himself to the crowd. This was, after all, a You Hear It First moment. So Jin gave his 30-second autobiography: “I wanted to get a record deal. No one would give it to me. So I went on [BET’s] ’106th and Park’ [where he won the freestyle competition on Freestyle Fridays for seven straight weeks]. And I got a deal through Ruff Ryders. It’s the good old-fashioned American way.”
Then he urged the audience to scream “f— you!”
Not because of the way he got a label deal, but because he was going into his next song about the “haters,” “I Don’t Know,” which led him to his last song of the night.
“If you like Chinese food, make some f—in’ noise!” he said, and the beat dropped on “Learn Chinese,” the first single from Almost Famous, which features Wyclef Jean. On the song he assures us that we’re “all gon’ learn Chinese” and we’ll even want to be Chinese.
When Jin finished his set, he said, “You know what? Ya’ll gon’ learn Chinese.” Then, as he was leaving the stage, he joked, “but I barely speak that sh–.”
Next up, as signaled by the banjo music, came a slimmed down Bubba Sparxxx, wearing, but not for long, a black button-down shirt and a white T-shirt underneath.
He opened with “We Ready” and went right into “Lovely” before talking to the crowd. After reminding everyone that he was from the backwoods of Georgia, he said he had a very special announcement to make: “My father is in town tonight. He came from a dirt road in Georgia. And he been drinkin’ too!” He asked that the audience say a special chant to bring his father out: “Jimmy Mathis please come out he-ah!” “That’s simple enough even for New York,” Bubba cracked. When the crowd called for Johnny, an overweight, overalls-and-aviators-clad man wearing a straw hat and swilling a beer emerged from backstage and the new song “Johnny Mathis” from Bubba’s upcoming album, Deliverance (September 16), began playing as Bubba’s “father” roamed the stage. To prove his southern roots once again, Bubba ended his songs not with shattering glass, but with the crow of a rooster.
Then things started getting ugly. Bubba ripped off his shirts and threw them into the crowd as “Deliverance” began playing, on which he lovingly talks about his “fishing pole and bottle of ’shine” before handing the stage over to DJ Scientist, who is also a country boy and was wearing a Rolling Stones tongue-logo T-shirt. Bubba asked, “Hip-hop started in New York, right? I’m just a simple-minded country boy so I do be forgetting stuff sometimes.” Then he offered a “buffalo nickel to anyone can find a better DJ.”
DJ Scientist dropped the “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and cut it up into a drum-and-bass song, which got the crowd cheering and dancing immediately. The DJ did a little breakdance move and then put on the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” to which Bubba, still shirtless, started belly dancing. Then DJ ScienTIST turned “Hypnotize” into “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with fancy fader tricks. When he put “Good Times” on by Chic, he started mixing not only with his hands, but with his feet and knees as well, while he spun around, played backwards, licked his fingers and pushed his glasses back up at the same time.
When the DJ set was over, Bubba’s hype man asked the audience if the in-shape Bubba looked pretty. Bubba answered before anyone else could. “I know I’m pretty, but I sure do see a lot of ugly sons of bitches in the crowd tonight.” And then Bubba’s first single “Ugly,” from his debut album, Dark Days, Bright Nights, kicked in with its Timbaland-produced bounce beat. When the song was over and Sparxxx ripped his set, he kindly told the crowd,
“Bubba loves you.”
Anthony Hamilton, the epitome of a neo-soul singer with his dreadlocked, trucker hat-clad band, and wearing his own camouflage version with the word “obey” on it, opened his show with theatrical singing by him and his three backup singers. Hamilton ran through his collaborations, which included Tupac Shakur’s “Thugz Mansion” and the Nappy Roots’ Grammy-nominated “Po’ Folks” before moving on to his own new material. From his debut album, Coming From Where I’m From (August 26), he performed “Charlene,” a song “about a relationship gone wrong.” He finished the set by raising his right fist in the air and walking quietly off the stage.
Everyone was ready for the headliner, Common, by the time the hour after he was supposed to be off the stage finally rolled around.
Common got to the mic and welcomed the crowd. “We gonna party tonight like we in the basement of your mother’s house … all you see around you is family. I’m going to be your host tonight. My name is Common.”
Also wearing a camouflage hat and a khaki shirt, Common, who sported a bushy beard and a diamond earring, opened the hour-long set with “Soul Power” and then moved into “Time Travelin’ (A Tribute to Fela).”
At the end of “Nag Champa (Afrodisiac for the World),” Common barely spat the lyrics while doing the Robot.
“Me and Mos [Def] were on the horn [one day],” Common explained of the next song, and applause broke out when Mos’ name was mentioned — either because it was a crowd of his fans or because they knew what song was coming. “He said that when you rock that sh– in New York, you know you got to be live.” Then, he said, he got call-waiting. “Ya’ll know Talib Kweli?” The crowd cheered again. When he was on the phone with Kweli, also apparently getting performance advice from him, Common asked, “What do you want me to say?” His answer? The opening line to “Respiration.”
At the end of the song, strobe lights came on and Common started doing the Pogo. “Scream!” he yelled as “Electric Wire Hustler Flower” began. The frenetic energy got the crowd nearly moshing and had Common thrashing about on the stage, banging the mic stand on the floor so much and so hard that it bent in half.
Then, calming down a bit and taking a page from his friends the Roots’ concert playbook, Common, backed by a live band, started singing Nas’ “The World Is Yours” as he began a selection of old-school rap songs. From that, he went into an initials medley: the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa,” and then the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” From there, he went into his own early-’90s song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” He then played what could be called the follow-up to that song, his collaboration with the Roots, “Act Too … The Love of My Life.” Common moved straight into Run-DMC’s “Sucker MCs” and then the Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By” before Audio 2’s “Top Billin.’ ” He concluded the trip down memory lane with his own recent hit, the collaboration with girlfriend Erykah Badu, “Love of My Life.”
“We like to kick it, but we like to slow it down, too. Show a little love,” Common said. “People love cars or chains or rims. But we’re here to love ourselves, the Most High, and our mates as reflections of ourselves.”
With that he chose a woman from the audience to come onstage to serenade for “Come Close.” The woman, Kristin, knew every word to the song to sing back to Common and didn’t even mind when Common, drenched in sweat, gave her a big bear hug.
Of course, it was after he escorted Kristin off the stage that Common mopped himself off and told the audience, “This is one love that I can’t shake,” as his shoulders twitched. “Hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop,” he repeated as the lights came up and down. “The foundation of hip-hop is the DJ,” he said as he introduced DJ Dummy.
DJ Dummy played Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” as he spun with his back to the turntables, his eyes closed, and even with a woman all hugged up on him.
Common performed a freestyle rhyme with the chorus, “Girl, It’s a freestyle,” before going into “Funky for You,” during which he jumped into the crowd and danced for fans.
He ended the show with an extended version of “The Light,” so he could introduce the Electric Circus players and thank everybody for attending the basement party.
Funked-up circus music played for about 10 minutes, until Common, standing center-stage, flashed a black power fist and then a peace sign before the lights came up.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.