Review: "Legends of Southern Hip Hop" at Robinson Center | Rock Candy

Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: "Legends of Southern Hip Hop" at Robinson Center

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 5:30 PM

“This ain’t skinny jean music! Some of these guys had cassettes!”

The huge majority of the people packing the house at the new and beautifully appointed Robinson Center for the "Legends of Southern Hip-Hop" Tour are well into our thirties and at least a generation removed from the digital natives thumbing through Audiomack and DatPiff apps for new music.

And while I personally never owned a cassette from any of tonight’s line-up (although I vividly remember being ten years old and looking wide-eyed and shook-like at the disposable camera Mexican standoff scene on the cassette cover of "Mr. Scarface is Back" that sat under the glass counter in Beaches, my Ark-La-Tex hometown’s rap cassette/incense/God-knows-what-else store) there’s no doubt that Geto Boys, Bun B, 8 Ball & MJG, Trick Daddy, and especially my two favorite NOLA rappers from the day, Juvenile and Mystikal, were the inescapable “American Graffiti” soundtrack of my teenage weekends.

Although a mismapped Uber kept us from catching Bun B (the best rapper on the bill by a hair or two and most likely to sweep a week of “Jeopardy!”) open the night, Trick Daddy flexed through a block of Miami classics, including a tender and timely “Thug Holiday” (“Here go one for all these killings and all these conflicts in religion/See the Muslims, Jews, and Christians but know they're all God's children.")

Juvenile opened with the title track off “400 Degreez” and stayed true to his name, roasting his own hooks, riding an invisible donkey across the stage, swinging a microphone dong at the wings, and playing fuzzy geography by claiming his home state of Louisiana shares a town with Arkansas in Texarkana (“I ain’t never been to that motherfucka but”) before ripping into “Ha," objectively the best song Cash Money ever put out; grind classic “Slow Motion;" and (isn’t it time for a revival of this one?) “Back That Azz Up."

Scarface, dressed like a weekday afternoon minister in a polo and sensible jeans, wasn’t afraid to call his set a sermon, sounding great and precise when dominating the occasional 16 acapella. After “Fuckfaces” and “Mary Jane," one of the crowd’s intermittent smoke signals went up (which always ended up with two beefy cops walking back up to the lobby, empty-handed as they came) and Scarface indirectly chastised the crowd for smoking something that “made me paranoid as hell” before the wah lick from Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up On My Baby” swooped in and made entire crowd light into “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (“I sit alone in my four-cornered room, staring at candles!”)

Before leaving, Face said this would probably be the last time he raps in Little Rock. He’s switching the direction of his career, the icon says. Fingers crossed we see Johnny Nash’s cousin swinging through the White Water Tavern with a South Texas roots outfit soon.

8 Ball & MJG were the night’s Memphis ambassadors, 8Ball jiggling and MJG slinking across the stage for a set that opened with the tinny, signature '90s Memphis synth strings of “Lay it Down," then swinging a decade and a half later into the Cee-Lo Green hooked “Ridin’ High” and “Don’t Make." The highlight of the set, though, was my friend’s story about the two of them swinging down to a certain used CD chain store in early ‘00s Little Rock, dressed up in suits and ties, claiming to be label representatives (and obviously not fooling anyone even for a second) to do some greasy palm transactions on chopped & screwed mixtapes.

Mystikal put the finisher on the night but just wasn’t as entertaining as floating around the tri-level party happening in the lobbies and smoking areas of new Robinson. Somehow, the auditorium stayed full while the lobbies were packed, and a celebratory, smooth vibe filled the air in the new space. Serious praise is due to the Robinson Center for putting these, yes, legends up on the same stage as "Cats" and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. And the acoustics in the hall, surely not designed to ‘90s rap tape specifications, thumped deep and sharp.

The night was so great, in fact, that I felt a small pang of disappointment when I heard J. Cole, on his already sold-out stop here in June, wasn’t going to be playing the new best big-league rap venue in town.

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