By now we’ve all heard reports (in varying degrees of validity) of Thursday night’s shooting in the parking lot of Red Rocks Amphitheater. The Feed the Rocks show boasted ScHoolboy Q, Nas, and Flying Lotus, but apparently, we couldn’t have nice things. Though a picture of Schoolboy Q in handcuffs is making the rounds, it was allegedly Q and his entourage that were the shooting victims. No arrests have been made, and the three wounded individuals are reportedly in stable condition. We’re wishing them all a speedy recovery.
The venue was on full lockdown for hours last night as blue and red lights painted the rocks and a helicopter circled relentlessly overhead. No one was allowed to leave or enter, as the staggering lines of cars waited at a stand-still, honking their frustration as police and venue security worked in vain to come up with answers. Vehicles appeared to have been searched diligently for a few hours until just before 2am, when the police must have recognized the futility of their efforts, and began simply questioning every fourth car or so. In my case, they asked if I knew what had happened (I did), if I had any information about the incident (I did not), and if I had “a black guy hiding in [my] car” (facepalm, and also, I did not). They took my name, date of birth, and license plate number before then allowing us to leave.
The irony that this was a benefit concert has not been lost on anyone. It’s been a tough pill to swallow for most hip-hop fans today. Comments on news articles and social media reflect a strong “what do you expect” and “of COURSE it was rap” sentiment. It was even thrown into relief last night, on the faces of Flying Lotus fans. It did not compute with them that this would ever even be a possibility. Slack-jawed and wide-eyed they drifted from car to car questioning people, marveling at what they had somehow become a part of. The hip-hop crowd seemed to simply accept it with an air of disappointed resignation.
What should be understood by all parties, critics and fans alike, is that there is a difference between correlation and causation. Yes, there is historically and presently a correlation between violence and rap, and we don’t have to act like we don’t know that just because we love the music. However, hip-hop didn’t cause this, and to blame the music or the fans is shamefully reductive. It boils down to this: when you criticize something of which you know nothing, your opinions hold no weight. Bye, Felicia.
The show itself was largely phenomenal. There’s always a twinge of pride seeing a local opener on that famous stage, though typically the crowd is sparse. Last night was no exception on both counts, as Turner Jackson and Lily Fangz gave it their all on the mic before Mu$a and Gyp da Hip did the same on the decks. Turner’s exuberance was palpable, and Lily was effortlessly captivating, as they both danced carelessly to each track. The small crowd didn’t show them too much love but that’s pretty much par for the course at 6:30pm. Mu$a emceed and DJ’d with a veteran’s confidence, and Gyp da Hip read the crowd as only he can, getting everyone off their feet with guttural drops in a truly dope trap set.
ScHoolboy Q’s grey shirt was soaked through with sweat by the end of his set, a testament to his efforts on stage. Though he admitted his exhaustion from the start of the show, his solid frame barely stopped moving as he dripped swag all over the red stage. The breaks between each song were far too long, but the crowd forgave him everything as he ran through one heater after another. He went heavy on his Oxymoron hits, as expected. “Collard Greens,” “Break the Bank,” and “Studio” each had everyone flying off their feet and hands aloft, flailing with uncontainable admiration. While that energy may be born of sincerity, the music loses some magic when a sea of mostly white kids scream “yeah nigga” (“The Purge”) repeatedly, and with ownership. Welcome to 2014, I guess.
Nas, in contrast, handles that dynamic and every other deftly. The crowd was putty in his hands, regarding him with reverence and near disbelief. He is aware of everything; from his noticeable lack of racial epithets in front of a largely white crowd, to his impeccable gear, to the power of his immortal words as they ring out in the venue he always reminds us that he loves. Not many rappers can own the Red Rocks stage, but Nas’s penchant for the epic (“One Mic,” “If I Ruled The World,” etc.) is what that place was built for. The jumbo screen counted the years back to 1994 before the emcee launched into a bevy of Illmatic classics, amidst visuals of black and white New York City, and lingering close-ups of dead presidents. DJ Green Lantern backed him well as always, the routine and chemistry so solid that Green Lantern dropped the instrumental out and used individual cuts to punctuate Nas’s solo vocal on the choppy “Nastradamus” hook. The energy was on 10 from start to finish, and Nas proved (as always) that his work is timeless. He still revels in performing as much as we do in watching him.
Flying Lotus was a different experience all together, and a pretty odd transition. The many empty seats confirmed that most of the audience was there for the hip-hop, but Fly Lo was captivating to those who stuck it out. His visuals were detailed and varied on the 3D silk screens, as his beats hit with an astounding force (so much for the noise regulation everyone keeps talking about at Red Rocks). It was impressive, and he was gracious when he got on the mic, but frankly just because EDM and rap may share some commonalities, doesn’t mean they always make for an effective marriage.