ANAHEIM, California — It seemed like a perfect opportunity for the lines to be drawn. After all, the lineup for the evening would play perfectly on a variety of rivalries in the world of urban music: rookie vs. veteran, electro-hop vs. sample-driven and even baggy vs. skinny trouser selection.
But instead, the artists that took the stage Saturday night at Los Angeles radio station Power 106 FM's annual Powerhouse concert served as a sampling of the cultural convergence that has trended so heavily over the metropolis' airwaves as of late. In true Powerhouse form, a Latino-dominated crowd filtered in from around Southern California to Anaheim's Honda Center and got their first glimpse at a handful of new artists that have been in that heavy rotation.
While the Powerhouses of previous years have boasted bills brimming with rap's heavy hitters (Eminem, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, the Game), this year saw a host of skinny-jeans-wearing up-and-comers, some ringtone/radio-ready favorites, a special surprise performance and, of course, Jay-Z.
While Hova, a little over a month away from the release of his highly anticipated The Blueprint 3, was certainly the man most came to see, many of opening acts set out to make their first performance in front of thousands memorable — and to stake a claim for their own brand of hip-hop.
Brief, electro-fused, neon-clad performances by jerk movement leaders New Boyz, the Bay area's Ya Boy, Asian-American hip-hop collective Far East Movement and Cleveland's Kid Cudi ran like the radio station sponsor's drive-time playlist and were well-received by the throngs of young concertgoers.
"Embrace it, don't try and erase it," LMFAO's Redfoo said immediately following a performance of their L.A.-tagged rendition of "I'm in Miami," in reference to Jay Z's anti-Auto-Tune anthem. "I think he should go along with it. Evolve with the sound. It would be interesting to see someone of his caliber embrace what we're doing."
With hit after hit, Sean Paul, Flo Rida and Pitbull (who had the advantage of rambunctious hypeman Lil Jon) ripped through sets that read like an iTunes singles chart, before a surprise performance from the Black Eyed Peas. A night after their tour stop at the neighboring Orange County Fair, the foursome's two-song set ("Boom Boom Pow" and "I Got a Feeling") came complete with a full stage design with giant inflatable robots and tickertape.
The irony in the air was noticeably thick as Jay-Z began his outing with a no-holds-barred rendition of "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" to set the mood for his performance. He was armed with his requisite JumboTron and full backing band (whose usual "Reservoir Dog"-inspired getups were noticeably replaced by black fatigues emblazoned with the same three horizontal red stripes that will adorn his coming album cover).
Hov nimbly maneuvered through his well-worn catalog of classic material. From the old ("Can I Get A ...") to the brand new ("Run This Town"), in his vintage style, Jay served hit after hit, rarely pranced around the stage and often allowing the thousands on hand to deliver his punch lines. In stark contrast to the night's earlier performances, Jay almost seemed amused at how easy it was to invite the intro to one of his many memorable ditties and let the nostalgia seduce concertgoers into doing his work for him.
"How many of you all are waiting on that Blueprint 3?" Jay asked before getting a bellowing response from the packed house. After a prolonged pause, Jay delved into the a cappella freestyle with an in-passing mention of the Game that he's been giving his audiences at several recent shows. Since this performance was so near the Compton MC's hometown, there had been Internet speculation before the show that Jay would address Game's recent rebuttals.
Instead, while rumors of a possible "Summer Jamming" (the mention did incite some boos, however) and various "secret" guest appearances fizzled, Jay reeled in the crowd by picking dozens of random audience members and individually thanking them for their support during his long and illustrious career.
No matter if you were draped in a baggy jersey or purple skinny jeans, it was hard not appreciate not only the well-crafted performance of a hip-hop icon, but also the unanticipated cohesiveness of the night as a whole.