diso2_1000x50

The live rap album

There are a few, and Mr. Lif has one of the best
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  December 5, 2007
insiderap_MrLif_120707_Jaso
PLAYING OUT: Mr. Lif.

December is the time of year when the new album well dries up and gives way to a deluge of novelty releases: boxed sets; collector’s editions; concert DVDs; Mannheim Steamroller; and the ultimate Completists Only trinket, the live album. While there will always be unearthed Bob Dylan documents and Miles Davis sessions to give mom and pops, and Phish bootlegs for your New England college-student sibling or spawn, the live album hasn’t really caught on with popular music’s more innovative genres.

The paucity of indie-rock concert albums isn’t much of a surprise, given the field’s lack of financial backing and allergy to consumerism (one notable exception: French dance-rock overlords Daft Punk have a new, acclaimed live album, Alive 2007, on Virgin); more curious is the obscurity of the live hip-hop album. Here’s a commercially successful, personality-driven, market-savvy genre that has yet to capitalize on one of popular music’s most reliable myth-making products. What gives?

Plenty of things. For one, rap shows live and die by their crowds. Call-and-response, dancing, bouncing, pot smoke, and camaraderie are all necessary pieces of the dope hip-hop gig puzzle, and none of them translate well (if at all) to a recording. Moreover, the demands on an MC in a live setting necessitate tough decisions: a smooth performance vs. a great party; speed vs. cadence; enthusiasm vs. clarity. For most rappers, it’s more effective to leave the polish for the studio, blast those subwoofers, and dedicate your live gigs to energy and stamina.

Boston’s Mr. Lif, a member of the formidable Definitive Jux label who headlines a show at the Asylum December 15, resolved all of these conundrums in 2002 with his release, Live at the Middle East (Ozone). Recorded at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, club, the album was a bold experiment for many reasons, not only its unique concept but also because his show consisted of almost exclusively new material. Rather than frustrate fans out for familiar beats and rhymes, though, Lif captivated them with guest DJs and MCs, lengthy spontaneous freestyles, intelligent stories, and political incitement. The feat was so successful that Lif will be recording a December 14 gig at the Middle East for another upcoming album. It’s also proof that hip-hop isn’t necessarily a studio-exclusive medium.

In that spirit, here are a few more live rap albums that might be worth stocking-stuffing over the holidays:

Boogie Down Productions, Live Hardcore Worldwide (1991, Jive)
Generally considered the best rap album ever, and blazing, soulful proof that KRS-One was an even better rapper on stage than in the studio.

The Roots, The Roots Come Alive (1999, Mca)
Culled from a few different performances, this one places sound quality at the forefront; that's not surprising, considering the group’s live performances are some of hip-hop’s most dynamic.

Cypress Hill, Live at the Fillmore (2000, Sony)
Probably a fans-only purchase, but a sensible release for a band that helped popularize rap-rock fusion.

Jay-Z, Unplugged (2001, Roc-A-Fella)
Recorded for the acoustic MTV concert show, the album lacks the improv of a true live gig, but Jigga’s slick take on The Blueprint’s “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” is worth the price alone. With members of the Roots as backup band, natch.

Mf Doom, Live From Planet X (2005, Nature Sounds)
The album loses points for being put out as one 40-minute track, but earns them back through minimal crowd sound and Doom’s weird beats and stunning, breathless delivery.

Email the author
Christopher Gray: cgray@phx.com

Related: They get ill, Beyond Dilla and Dipset, What rhymes with Barack?, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Hip-Hop and Rap, Music,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
Blogs
Lena Dunham’s risky book deal
Phlog  |  October 12, 2012 at 3:43 PM
Q&A #7: Brown Or Warren
Talking Politics  |  October 12, 2012 at 1:00 PM
Q&A #6: Devaney Challenge
October 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Free Fun Shit: Oct 12-18: Food Truck Throwdown, Maker Faire, GDGT tech showcase, Kerouac lit fest, new night @ ZuZu + more
Phlog  |  October 12, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Monica Castillo at NYFF, 2
Outside The Frame  |  October 12, 2012 at 11:14 AM
 More: Phlog  |  Music  |  Film  |  Books  |  Politics  |  Media  |  Election '08  |  Free Speech  |  All Blogs
ARTICLES BY CHRISTOPHER GRAY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ASCENDING FILMMAKERS, DYING FORMATS  |  July 11, 2012
    It's a precarious moment for lovers of classic films and, indeed, film itself.
  •   REVIEW: THE COLOR WHEEL  |  May 23, 2012
    By my (admittedly jaded) count, there are two shocking moments in Alex Ross Perry's startlingly original comedy, The Color Wheel .
  •   BEAUTIFULLY BROODING, BLEATING NEW WAVE FROM FUTURE ISLANDS  |  April 25, 2012
    Romance is terrifying. It is second-guesses and regrets, passion manifested in polar extremes, and an ongoing search for certainty.
  •   FAKE IT SO REAL CONSIDERS THE ARTS OF STORYTELLING AND BODYSLAMS  |  February 01, 2012
    Almost any documentary about a niche hobby or creative outlet (think Every Little Step or Spellbound ) devotes some amount of screen time to the therapeutic value of such unlikely obsessions.
  •   REVIEW: DRAGONSLAYER  |  January 04, 2012
    Josh "Skreech" Sandoval is a slacker. A onetime professional skateboarder both admired for and limited by the "random chaos" of his technique, Sandoval abandoned sponsorships and relative fame in search of greater freedom.

 See all articles by: CHRISTOPHER GRAY