Went to Waka Flocka Flame’s concert in Copenhagen last night. Didn’t quite know what to expect, but arrived stoked to find out whether the energy he channels so freely on record translated well to the stage. Well, it did and it didn’t.
Waka Flocka’s music is simple, testosterone-charged, almost vitalistic hip hop that carries the trappings of gangsta rap, but fundamentally is about a party. It is the wrong place to look for complexity and even variety, but when he is at his best — like on his amazing album debut Flockavelli from 2010 — he marries infectious abandon and chest-thumping assertiveness, and he tends to do it over Lex Luger’s majestic, surprisingly complex orchestration.
Anyway, much of this also happens live. Turnout was low at the venue, Pumpehuset, but what a crowd — youngsters moshing bare-chested in the front rows, the rest reliably throwing their hands up at every prompt. And Waka and his DJ brought great physical energy to their performance, never letting things slip. It was a party, no doubt about it.
On the other hand, Waka didn’t really rap much at all. Most of the time he either shouted or ad-libbed his own recorded vocals, essentially acting as a hype man to his own music. It was more of a DJ’s vocal performance than that of an MC and when one is reared on hip hop being about skill in live performance, that just doesn’t cut it for a high profile rapper like Waka (the DJ didn’t do anything beyond pressing play, adding the obligatory gunclaps and ad-libbing on the his mic). From a musical point of view, it makes for a fallow listening experience.
I suspect Waka doesn’t even give it second thought, coming as he does from a tradition of Southern hip hop that doesn’t adhere to the blueprints prescribed in New York last century. Where this is perfectly acceptable as a live performance because it gets the job done — it’s a party, people have fun. This seems to be a tendency that is becoming increasingly prevalent in hip hop, and one that poses a fundamental challenge to certain core values in the culture. Now, I don’t think skills are disappearing from the music — clearly Waka has them in the studio, and channels he his persona well on stage, which is also important to the skill set of an MC — but I can’t help but feel a little sad to see such devaluation of vocal and musical artistry in a genre that has always put a high premium to them. It is a carte blanche to lazy, disposable music and, in the hands of less charismatic performers, extremely dull concerts.
The video above, from a 2012 performance in London gives a good idea of Waka Flocka’s performance style as I experienced it, although he didn’t bring a drummer to the stage last night.