When the news hit that Mos Def and Doom would share a bill in Chicago, cats went wild. A “supershow” is the way my friend described it on Facebook. And it would seem so. Two of the top emcees in modern rap - plus local Chicago heavyweights Qwel & Maker opening – made this bill look golden on paper. Too bad it was an utter disaster. In hindsight, I feel kind of stupid for expecting anything less. I actually was looking forward to this with great anticipation, as were many of my fellow Chicagoans.
One cannot point the blame to any one party, as this fiasco was a failure on many levels. I will attempt to break them down in a way that will allow you, the reader, to experience this “supershow” in all its glory.
The Venue and/or The Soundmen
The Congress Theatre is a historic, old-time “movie palace” in the heart of Chicago that was built in the 1920s. It is beautifully ornamented and very spacious; complete with grand auditorium ceiling. As gorgeous and significant as it is, I think this is the wrong venue for a bass-heavy rap show. The sound simply sucks. Every rap show I’ve seen there has been awful. I suspect that this is not only because of the room’s design, but also the soundmen that work there.
For example, one of the opening emcees Qwel - who is very verbose and potentially hard to understand to begin with – was just muffled completely by the overblown bass. Perhaps if it was mixed better from the soundboard, it would have sounded actually enjoyable. But the soundmen probably thought it was “supposed” to sound that way, and I imagine patted themselves on the back for the great job they did.
You know it’s a bad sign when the promoter changes the show date by two weeks at the last minute, causing huge inconvenience to everyone who scheduled days off, had travel plans, or booked other shows. But that’s not even the worst of it. To me, the most ridiculous thing about this promotion was having seven (!) opening acts. Nothing against the opening acts, but sitting through anything more than three acts at any show is just exhausting. I don’t know if they were the promoter’s boys or whatever, but it was just a dumb move. Having that many opening acts causes the doors to open at seven pm – and in turn causes the fans to have to stand for more than five hours to finally see the ones they paid to see, which brings me to the final reason this show sucked…
Mod Def & Doom
Picture this; people have paid $35, waited in line outside in the Chicago February cold for 45 minutes if not more, and have now stood on their feet in the cramped venue with bad sound for over five hours. 12:30a.m. rolls around, and we are informed that Mos Def and Doom have FINALLY arrived at the venue.
You’re telling me these dudes got flown out to Chicago to do a show, and didn’t even have the decency to arrive to the venue until five minutes before they are scheduled to go on? How disrespectful is that not only to the fans, but also to the Chicago artists that they’re sharing the bill with? It was an evident diva move that really made me feel disrespected not only as a fan, but as a Chicagoan. Well, the fans were not having it. By the time Mos Def got on, the crowd was already furious and started whipping bottles and garbage at the stage.
Did Mos Def apologize for arriving late, or even consider that we’ve been standing there for over five hours? Of course not. He just told us to “chill out”. Anyway at least his set was good. He did three Doom joints, and around six or seven of his own. He’s a born performer so by the end of his set I had all but forgiven him.
After Mos ends his set with Doom’s standout cut “Curlz” off the Madvillain record, Doom came out and put a stake right through the heart of the night by lip-synching every song in his brief, abbreviated set. Yes, lip-synching. However, his loud, rowdy, and nameless hype-man’s mic was definitely on. The guy was screaming at us to get excited, but Doom was so obviously not rapping and he wasn’t even trying to hide it. The performance was limp, uninspired, lazy, and just not creative in any way.
It was much more exciting hearing Mos Def do Doom’s songs, because at least he really rapped them and showed passion for the material. After around two or three into Doom’s set, the crowd had had enough and started to noticeably thin out. They didn’t miss much though, because after five or six songs, Doom abruptly walked off stage, the house-lights turned on, and the curtain fell. The crowd all looked at each other with confusion and disappointment on their faces.
With a near-post-9/11 unity we poured out of the theatre with loud boos, and I even heard one guy scream “Fuck New York hip hop!” It was a sad, sad shame. Outside I ran into some poor kids who drove all the way to Chicago from Michigan just to see the show, and they felt the same way I did: cold, tired, unfulfilled, and robbed.