After opening sets from a lively Tabi Bonney and a soulful John Forté, Wale took the stage with the contagious energy and thoughtful lyricism on which he's built his reputation. The D.C. MC got the crowd singing along to hits off of Attention Deficit, including the Bollywood-inspired "Chillin' " and the incredibly infectious "World Tour," before launching into his remix/freestyle of Justice's "D.A.N.C.E." Before finishing his set, Wale took his frenetic stage presence to the floor, jumping into the audience and signing shoes, hats and whatever else the crowd handed him. But he had one last surprise for the audience. After leaving the stage, Wale came back for an encore, launching into "Beautiful Bliss," at which point the first big guest of the night, J. Cole, took to the stage to join the revelry.
But there was much more to come. After a quick set change, the Somali-Canadian rapper K'Naan came out to crowd hysterics. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much cross-over between co-headliners Wale and K'Naan, but if you look closer, you'll discover that they are both thoughtful and detail-oriented writers, a throwback to the early days of hip-hop that placed an importance on storytelling and connecting with an audience. K'Naan is a much different performer than Wale, bringing a more quieter contemplativeness to his set. At one point, he even asked the crowd politely to hold their applause so that everyone would really be able to hear what he was saying. That's not to say that K'Naan doesn't bring his own energy and enthusiasm. He got the crowd moving during "TIA," and then brought Wale back onstage to perform their hit off Wale's album, "TV in the Radio."
There was still a huge surprise in store for the audience though. After a brief story about Nas' Illmatic inspiring his love of hip-hop, K'Naan launched into the first verse of "N.Y. State of Mind" and then was joined onstage for the second verse by the legendary MC himself. Immediately after, Damian Marley came out and joined K'Naan for the mid-tempo "I Come Prepared," off of K'Naan's latest album, Troubadour. Of course, once K'Naan had the two music legends onstage, they launched into their new single "As We Enter," from their collaborative album Distant Relatives.
It would be tough to top the energy at this point, but K'Naan rose to the challenge, diving into an extended version of the anthemic "Waving Flag," which, of course, was recently chosen as the official song of the 2010 Word Cup in South Africa. It seemed as though every single person in the packed venue was singing along at this point — a great end to a high-energy evening.
If you missed the performance, not to worry: The concert will be available on-demand on MTV.com starting Wednesday, April 7.