Nas & Ms. Lauryn Hill
Better than…a Kelis and Wyclef double billing
Nas & Lauryn Hill have a strong incentive to tour recently — tax problems. Ahead of their double billed show last night at the Wiltern (they play again tonight) fans were hoping that they as well as the IRS would be beneficiaries.
After a DJ set, Hill took the stage a mere 20 minutes behind schedule. Backed by an elaborate eight-piece band, Hill — who wore high waisted, checkered pants — playing a somewhat disorienting set. She performed “Killing Me Softly” twice, in two different forms, which seemed to leave her fans unsatisfied. The new arrangements would have sounded terrific at a jazz club, but fans last night wanted red meat.
While the ambitious arrangements may have been interesting in practice, their re-worked versions of classics like “Ex Factor” visibly caused some in attendance to head for the exits — perhaps as much as a third of her fans.
At the end of her new song, “Black Rage,” Hill told the crowd to simmer down while she recited the lyrics mostly sans music. It was an interesting political statement, and a rare fresh song for her, yet the crowd was restless. By the time she finished with “Doo Wop (That Thing),” the Wiltern had notably thinned out.
Nas, on the other hand, offered an inspired performance; the worst thing about it was that it didn't run longer than his allotted 75 minutes. With the recent release of his album Life Is Good — which he's compared to Marvin Gaye's Hear My Dear because of his opening up about his divorce to Kelis — he seems to have found his mojo once again. Last night's performance seemed to harness that spark.
Running onto the stage with a varsity jacket — soon ditched in favor of an all-black ensemble with a gold chain — Nas wasted no time, performing each track with the vigor and intensity someone with something to prove. He dedicated “Bye Baby,” with its biting lyrics, to his ex. R&B heavy hitter Anthony Hamilton came out for two songs, including “World's An Addiction.”
Otherwise, Nas offered up catalog hits his fans wanted to hear, including “Hip Hop Is Dead,” “Made You Look,” “If I Ruled The World” and “One Love.” He looked loose and appeared to be having good time, which is not always the case with the Queensbridge-native MC.
Opening the night was relative newcomer Jhene Aiko, who proved more than worthy of sharing the big stage. (See our profile of her below.) Donning a bikini top along with a long dress, she looked like she was ready to luau, but her magnetic personality and Badu-esque vocals won over the crowd. Though she appeared a bit nervous between songs, she showcased quite a range as a vocalist.
Critical Bias: If Nas ruled the world, then Hill killed everyone softly
Overheard In The Crowd: “I hope she plays that Fugees song. Wait, she was in The Fugees, right?” -Guy in the bathroom
Random Notebook Dump: A girl came up to me and offered me a signed Nas t-shirt. Done.