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Hip-Hop at Intonation ’06

So two-day-long outdoor music festivals aren’t really hip-hop, in general. I’m sure if the city of Chicago actually thought there would be more than four black people (I counted) in attendance at this year’s Intonation Music Festival, they never would’ve allowed the shit to take place in Union Park. After all, someone could’ve gotten shot.

That said, rap was out in full force on both days of this year’s event. It seemed as if Vice made a conscious effort to add a lot of diversity to the line-up – perhaps to combat their image as being vaguely racist white hipsters or maybe just to bring out Chi-town hip-hop fans. If it was the latter, then obviously it didn’t really work. But it was a nice try anyway.

Here’s a brief rundown of the hip-hop shows I caught this weekend.

Devin the Dude. I’m somewhat familiar with his oeuvre, but I’m not a huge fan or anything. He must have done about ten songs that were all about weed and sex – mostly weed. From my vantage point, the crowd didn’t seem to be into it at all.

Ghostface Killah. Despite the fact that he wasn’t an actual headliner, Ghostface might’ve been this weekend’s most well-received performance. Not that this is news or anything, but white hipsters love Ghostface. His set was a somewhat abbreviated version of his normal show, but it was still damn good.

Lady Sovereign. Jay-Z’s new pint-sized British techno rapper did a brief set in between Ghostface and the Streets, who were the first evening’s headliners. The crowd didn’t really seem to be feeling her shit at all.

The Streets. Do the Streets count as hip-hop? Their set wasn’t as hype as Ghostface’s but I thought Mike Skinner’s “unique” brand of humor translated surprisingly well to a live setting. The jigfellow that does a lot of the singing on his records isn’t as much of a focal point on the actual albums, but he’s a real riot to watch on stage, too.

Cage. Def Jux also happened to be playing a show in Chicago Saturday night, which I caught. Cage seemed surprisingly younger and more normal-looking than you’d think. He must’ve kicked whatever he was on. I thought his performance was alright, but you couldn’t tell that to the troubled-looking kids who were in the audience that night. The dude has an intense fan base.

Mr. Lif. I had heard good things about Lif’s live show, but you know how critics like to give a free pass to artists with strong political content. Word to Boots Riley. Come to find out, this dude really is that good. It’s hard to get an idea just listening to the records, but Mr. Lif is absolute monster on stage. More so than any other rapper I’ve seen, the dude can spit loud and fast and still maintain a great level of clarity.

Rhymefest. I showed up about half way through Rhymefest’s set the second day. The crowd was still kinda sparse at this point, not unlike Devin the Dude’s set, but Rhymefest still managed to get shit reasonably hype. His voice projects incredibly well and he takes advantage of that by doing a lot of a capella stuff, freestyles and what have you.

Lupe Fiasco. Hip-Hop’s next big thing (nullus) put on a good set Sunday afternoon, but not quite on the level of most of the rest of this weekend’s hip-hop. He opened rhyming over a bunch of Kanye’s shit, which the crowd enjoyed, but the they didn’t seem to be as into his own stuff, except for “Kick Push.” He went on a bit of a spiel about the situation with his album and announced that Jay-Z would be contributing a verse. No one seemed to give a shit.

dead prez. Hilariously, about an hour before dead prez went on, mad terrorist kids started setting up shop in front of their stage. There were several different kinds of anarchists (gay ones, ecological ones, etc.) and also some kids from the Tamil Tigers, not to mention a few angry-looking older black people. Their set was good-not-great, but the crowd seemed really into it. They even got about half the crowd to shout “reparations” on cue.

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