Last Night: Nas & Lauryn Hill at Bayou Music Center
Houston caught two rap greats for the price of one last night. On one corner was Nas, arguably the greatest lyricist of his generation; on the other, Lauryn Hill, the best hybrid rapper/singer hip-hop has ever seen. One show had the crowd of young hip-hop heads going nuts, while the other left the crowd behind.
Nas went first. I've seen him twice in concert and really liked him Wednesday. His songs are a mix of street observations and personal narratives, highlighting stories of pain and love and confusion and addiction. He's a storyteller.
Shortly after his daughter Instagrammed a box of condoms, he revealed his struggle as a parent on the Life Is Good track "Daughters." On the same album, he shared thoughts on his divorce battle with star singer Kelis. He's discussed bitter frenemies, cheating exes, his father's infidelity, mother's death, etc.
If you're reading this review in 2031, you've probably heard a track about his son Knight by now. Nas is comfortable putting himself out there, no doubt.
And yet, it's not the personal stuff that makes his catalog throb. Wednesday, while running through two decades of material stretched out over his hour-long set, it was the street anthems (Nas prefers another term, "classic") that had the crowd going zonkers.
He carved out a 15-minute segment of his set just for these: "Get Down" segued into "Stillmatic Intro," which gave way to the Firm's "Phone Tap," then "We Major," followed by "Hip-Hop Is Dead" during the "Here's Another Classic" portion of Nas' set.
Each song was an opportunity to reaffirm his place as an unflinching street poet. And then there's the live band. Nas' touring band named, simply, Z (p/k/a Mulatto) brought life to many of the songs: a treacly "World Is an Addiction" turned a mellow jam, while "Nasty" soundtracked by Biggie's "One More Time," as Nas conveniently bragged about his "Maserati pumping Biggie the great legend."
Nas' set was a display in classic hip-hop braggart, but there was nothing insecure about the way he went about it. He seems calm and content these days. He closed with fan favorite "One Mic" and reminded us "that's all I ever needed."