From prog-metal gods Dream Theatre to legendary country icon Dolly Parton, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts has had some serious programming within the last year. So when I saw “Hate Me Now” rapper Nas was playing the venue, I couldn’t pass on an opportunity to review a performance from one of the most influential artists in hip-hop.
Walking into the main theater this past Friday, just as Wale was finishing up his set, the first thing I noticed is how much it smelled like weed in the room as and laughed to myself. I guess it wouldn’t be a hip-hop show without it – and hell, if I hadn't stopped smoking weed years ago and wasn’t writing a review, I might’ve snuck a lil somethin’ in (Lord knows I've done I have at other venues in the past).
After a brief intermission, Nas bursts onto the stage in a red shirt, black fitted-hat and sunglasses, the theater (which I thought would be a lot more full) erupts in applause and excitement for the Queens rapper.
Backed by a DJ and a drummer (who also happens to have a ridiculously soulful singing voice) Nas said enthusiastically, “We’re gonna start it right from the beginning” and immediately jumped into “N.Y. State of Mind” off of 1994’s Illmatic. Visuals of New York City in the '90s were projected on the giant screen behind Nas and crew as the 44-year-old led the audience through a collection of all-killer-no-filler favorites like “If I Ruled The World,” “The Message,” “Hate Me Now,” and “One Mic” with maybe one or two deep-cuts for the real hip-hop heads in the crowd.
Halfway through the set Nas grabbed a record from an audience member in the crowd, signed it, and thanked everyone for being at the show “Wow, this theater… Gonna have to bring a full orchestra next time we come through!”
While he and his backup singer/drummer’s vocals seemed a little off, what made up for a below-average sound-mix was Nas’ delivery and overall performance. He looked like he was having fun on stage, the crowd was hyped, and that’s really enough to leave with. In the end, Nas is still one of the greatest rappers of all time and Friday night’s show at the Tobin proved that.