Nas is a very big star, and Central Park Summerstage is a very small space.
Even for most of their standard indie/boho acts you have to get there mad early if you want any chance of getting in and seeing the stage. So with God's Son taking the stage at 3pm, and me doing my radio show the night before, I knew there was no way I'd be making the cut. And since most of the other fans who came wouldn't make it in either, I decided to see how the concert would turn out for all the outsiders looking in.
I got there about 3:45, and the scene was pretty much what I expected. Lots of cops inside an elaborate fortress of iron gates, and hundreds (thousands?) of mildy disgruntled young folks on the outside, hoping and pleading for a last minute shot at the promised land. Some were muttering about getting bamboozled by all the radio promotion, that gave no indication the venue would be so limited. Kids up front were engaged in a spirited discourse with Summerstage staff (see 3rd picture below), but the scene was relatively calm all things considered.
(pardon the namedroppy stuff here, I can't make the story work without it)
A little after 4PM I ran into Easy Mo Bee, who'd brought his daughter along for the show, and as we listened to Kid Capri hype up the crowd Mo Bee was scanning the area for someone who could get him in.. but then the instrumental for "NY State of Mind" started cutting through the park, and the world came to a halt. Mo Bee and I just looked at each other and shook our heads in awe, watching the entire park lose themselves in what might be the nastiest beat ever made.
That beat is just nasty as hell. Like, Make That Mean Face Like It's Hurting You nasty. Punch A Hole In The Wall And Then Throw Your Couch Out The Window nasty. Or in this case, Jump Over The Gates And Rush Past The Cops Like Bulls In Pamplona nasty.
Almost instantly we saw a mob rush the gates over on the left side, sending the cops in a mad dash to head them off. Then everyone around us realized our side was unguarded now, and the onslaught began in full. Parents were even pulling their little kids along with them into the breach (note young girl in the 3rd pic below).
I was worried things would get mighty ugly at this point, but I gotta say the cops showed a lot of restraint, from what I saw. They almost seemed to be letting it happen, and waiting for the rush to die down before they started pushing the latecomers back out (apparently there was only one arrest). So most of the bumrushers made it in successfully, and the those who got repelled seemed ready to accept their fate, as we heard Nas get on the mic to settle things down and start the show. "Yo, wherever the fire exits are, please let the devils clear that shit out!" he implored. "Let's show them it's all peace up in here."
This led into a jumbled political rant where Nas explained that "the white man is a genius-motherf**ker, and we shouldn't be mad at him for that!" Then he encouraged everyone not to vote, because "look at who's running? Bush and Kerry, two devils. Neither one of them niggas want to do nothing for us. We should only vote when one of us is running, from our community."
A few days before I'd heard Nas on the radio professing a certain respect for Bush because "at least he is gangsta," and he echoed that sentiment here: "Bush is gonna win though, cuz he's gangsta. Unless he decided he's made enough money already, so he wants to let Kerry start taking care of all this work."
Thankfully he got the speechifying out of his system pretty quickly, and the show got underway. Nas has never been known as the best live performer, but he brought a lot more energy than usual this time, and the guest appearances kept the crowd hyped throughout. From the outside listening in, it seemed like a solid show. Here's the setlist, possibly missing a song or two:
- It Ain't Hard To Tell
- One Love - with the show's first guest appearance, from Q-tip. Tip told Nas how much he values his work because "you rap about all 360 degrees of life, and it takes so much courage to do that."
- Life's A Bitch and Phone Tap - with AZ
- Eye For An Eye - with Mobb Deep, for whom Nas stepped aside so they could rock that new Thomas Dolby Joint.
- If I Ruled the World - This was the biggest shock of the day, as Lauryn Hill appeared on stage in a hooded monk's robe, accompanying herself on a sitar while she held down the chorus. Then she made alittle speech about how when her new album comes out she won't be accepting any manmade money for it, and it will only be on sale for "spirit dollars." Okay, none of that actually happened.
- Hate Me Now - with Busta for some reason
- Oochie Wally - come on man, we were trying to forget you did that to us
- Got Urself A Gun
- Get Down - after this Nas said "there's a song that I don't do no more, but I think that NY deserves this" and to the crowd's delight he went into:
- Ether - after which he acknowledged "I got love for that brother [Jay Z]."
- Thief's Theme - Then the first minute or so of "Apache," which of course segued into
- Made You Look - which has gotta be his best song post-illmatic. He probably should have ended here, cuz the energy seemed to drop off as he closed with
- I Can - and then
- One Mic
And then we all started on our way back through the park, about as happy as you can be with a show you didn't actually see.
(Peace to Hashim of hiphop.blogs.com, whom I also ran into.)