Hip-Hop Live Tour
Featuring Talib Kweli, David Banner and Little Brother
The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center
October 2, 2008
Words by Tamara Palmer; Photos by Dmitri Ponce and Tamara Palmer
Better than:The sad display that is offered at the average rap show
Download: Many days in the life of David Banner on Kyte
The Hip-Hop Live Tour achieved a memorable presentation for its second year with Little Brother, David Banner and Talib Kweli as the featured artists. The concept is simple: Find a tight band to back rap headliners more accustomed to having only a DJ on stage. Rhythm Roots All-Stars, a dynamic 10-piece band from Los Angeles, was once again selected for the task, and proved more than worthy for the challenge.
When we arrived, North Carolina's Little Brother brought the sartorial splendor, decked out in double Windsor knots, suits and even a sweater vest. A consistently underrated force in the Dirty South (perhaps because of their vast difference from the popular club rap that the region proliferates), Little Brother released a seminal album The Minstrel Show through Berkeley independent label ABB Records. That might be a chief reason the group has its fair share of fans here; they sang along and led the choir of "Hallelujahs" and "Amens" that they kept asking of "the Church."
In between sets, Dmitri and I decided to explore the boundaries of our "All Access" wristbands, on a mission to give Banner his repaired Kyte phone, which is the same that I use to shoot pictures and video. Banner uses his Kyte channel actively and includes a lot of footage from his live shows that he shoots from the stage, so we wanted to reunite him with his phone before he started.
"Maybe that [wristband] will get you a martini at the bar," guffawed the security at one backstage door. Hmm, foiled again with bogus, no-juice-giving wristbands once again, we thought.
We walked across the room and tried the other guarded door, and were waved in with a smile. Right there in the stairwell amidst a shuffle of people, was Banner himself, looking (as Dmitri said) like Rocky Balboa getting ready for battle.
As soon as he saw his phone, he beamed and hugged Dmitri, otherwise a complete stranger. He barely had it in his hands when he gave it back and said, "Here, film the first five minutes of my show."
All of a sudden we were following the trail of people through dark curtains and onto the stage.
Banner is the opposite of the usual and almost wallflower-like norm of a rapper in a live performance. In fact, he spent much of his time off stage, diving into the crowd to commune, hug, and even steal hats and glasses right off someone's head and face to impersonate a nerd back on stage. He even dedicated a brief cover version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to all the white people who support him. He got his most enthusiastic reactions for "Get Like Me" and "Shawty Say," his current singles which both broke on KMEL before just about anywhere else in the country.
As the Rhythm Roots took a well-deserved breather, the crowd started to chant, "Kweli, Kweli!" Banner is a tough act to follow, yet even though Kweli didn't rip off his shirt or hurl himself into the audience, it was clear that he also had a lot of true fans in the house with the loudest singing coming from the crowd all night. I've seen Kweli and Banner each a few times in different cities across the country, and while they're consistently compelling when backed by a lone DJ, the Rhythm Roots All-Stars helped them take their performances to another level.
Personal bias: Banner contributed the foreword to my book and, like his T-shirts, I heart him. However, despite being in the same room a few times and having this crazy onstage experience last night, I still haven't properly met him in person.
Random detail: The Grand Ballroom has many beautiful chandeliers.
By the way: Tour sponsor Sony gave out fancy earbud headphones to patrons as they entered.