By Tim Fenster:
Most rappers you hear on the radio these days -- Drake, Wiz Khalifa, etc. -- should in no way be considered hip hop artists. In fact, some say true hip hop is dead.
However, Buffalonians who attended the Thursday at the Harbor concert on July 5 saw the true spirit of hip hop, in a performance by the alternative hip hop group Arrested Development.
The seven-member ensemble featured a variety of Afrocentric clothing and dance styles, and plenty of socially conscious rhymes, which were laid over an eclectic mix of rock, funk, soul and reggae music. To put it simply, this show was about hip hop.
Fronting the group was emcee Speech, who donned denim overalls stained with yellow paint, as he spit patient raps calling for social awareness and progressive change. Behind him was rapper One Love, who fired machine-gun-quick, tongue twisting rhymes. He looked a bit like an undersized Jay-Z, with a clean-shaven head, and a black cargo shirt and shades.
Singers Montsho Eshe and Tasha Larae brought soul to the stage. Eshe wore a yellow tank-top and baggy pants, as she showcased Caribbean-style dance moves and a well-defined six-pack. Plus-size singer Larae was the vocal powerhouse on stage, belting out heavy soprano notes that brought a climax to many pieces. She donned a red kilt-like skirt and a lopsided orange afro -- a bizarre look that somehow seemed perfect for this group's offbeat hip hop vibe.
Supporting them was a three-piece rock band setup, featuring a white guitarist who could perfectly mimic scratchy turntable sounds with his six-string.
The band opened up with cuts from their newer efforts, 2010's Strong and their upcoming LP, Standing at the Crossroads, to be released Aug. 16. Their songs ran the gauntlet from low pounding beats to chill island rhymes, and everything in between.
Halfway through the show, the group ignited the crowd with a lively performance of "Tennessee," the group's breakout single, which was nominated for a Grammy back in 1993. The audience's response was equally hot, with hundreds of hands being thrown up and countless bodies launching into spontaneous dance.
Throughout the group's set, Speech made clear this group laces its music with social consciousness, as he called attention to issues such as crime, inequality and poverty. Speech asked everyone to through up peace signs, he made mention of Malcolm X before launching into "Revolution" and he dedicated "Mr. Wendal" to the homeless of Buffalo.
Speech was not preaching, though. He made statements of social change seem fun, performing songs like "Vibrations," which featured the chorus, "I need some time to ease my mind."
Arrested Development wrapped up their set with a moving performance of the wonderfully chaotic rap single "People Everywhere." And they ended it with an odd bit of consciousness, asking for the lights to be turned off before they were done performing. Standing in darkness, Speech said the show was now on the audience.
For a group that's so long and so ardently preached messages of positive change, particularly in the African-American community, one cannot ignore the significance behind this odd show-closer. Perhaps Speech was symbolically saying the group alone cannot enact the progressive change they call for on record; it will take all of us to fix the problems hip hop artists address on record.