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Tongue-lashing: Microphone king Nas takes the stage

BRITT’S BESTS AND BUSTS
An opinionated take on the week ahead in music, Sept. 5-11.


Gig of the Week

Nas (First Avenue, Friday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m., $35)

Nasir Jones has a lyrical flow like the unleashed spigot of a fire hydrant on a sweltering summer day: The words come in a torrent, hot on contact, then cool and energy-enhancing as the gush continues. Hailing from the Queensbridge projects of New York, Nas unfurled the greatest debut in hip-hop history – “Illmatic,” way back in 1994. Today, as a grizzled vet who turns 35 on Sept. 14, he is the beacon of the East Coast rap tradition of blending self-mythology with social commentary via a relentless string of creative couplets.

Ever since a mutually beneficial feud with his rival Jay-Z (since resolved) rekindled his muse in 2001, even Nas’ missteps are compelling affairs. Case in point is this year’s eponymous opus, which leans too hard on the latter side of the socio-political equation, as Nas bites off more than he can chew (and spit). Yet it kicks off with the glorious battle rap, “Queens Get the Money,” in which Nas says of his competition, “I’m over their heads/Like a bulimic on a seesaw,” and later rhymes “Arsenio” with “embryo.” It deftly culls through self-conflict on “America” and “Testify” (in which Nas cops to a condition he dubs “post-traumatic slave syndrome”). It lambastes Fox News on “Sly Fox,” and celebrates Obama on the disappointingly tepid “Black President.” (Here is a video of his latest single, “Hero” and, better yet, a five-song look (video embedded below) at him 10 months ago.)

No doubt the new record will figure prominently into Nas’ set at First Avenue (a wonderfully intimate venue for an act of his star caliber),  but the bountiful back catalog, including tracks from classic records such as “God’s Son” and “Hip Hop Is Dead,” as well as “Illmatic,” should also be well represented. And unlike the surfeit of producer-driven MCs glutting the market today, quality control is ensured by the fact that the abiding virtue of a Nas show is the man on the mic.

Crowd-pleasing

Roy Hargrove Quintet (Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, Sunday and Monday, Sept. 7 and 8, $40 for 7 p.m. show, $28 at 9:30 p.m.)

A former wunderkind who has matured gracefully while eschewing stagnation, trumpeter Hargrove has a long, rich history of gigs at his friend Lowell Pickett’s Dakota, including a nationally broadcast New Year’s Eve show ushering in 1993. This latest engagement is primed for massive audience approval. Hargrove has just released “Earfood,” with a stated goal of honing a cache of tunes “steeped in tradition and sophistication while maintaining a sense of melodic simplicity.” (Here’s a video sampler, complete with interviews.) 

He achieves the objective with a new quintet (alto saxophonist Justin Robinson is the lone holdover) of relatively obscure but talented and stylistically kindred sidemen. The set list will likely include the funky 70s stroll of “Mr. Clean” (with Hargrove and Robinson recreating the suave sparks Freddie Hubbard generated with tenor Joe Henderson 33 years ago), a gorgeous rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” and a bevy of ballads (“Joy Is Sorrow Unmasked” best among them) that demonstrate how Hargrove’s grasp of slower tempos has become more commanding and nuanced since his strings-besotted “Moment To Moment” disc nearly a decade ago.

Windy but stale

Chicago (Orpheum Theatre, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 8 p.m. $46-$91.50)

Has there ever been a band more jam-packed with horse manure than Chicago? Remember the voice-over on their very first record: “If you must call them something, speak of the city where all save one were born … call them Chicago”? Remember the liner notes for “Chicago II,” recorded on the conglomerate Columbia label in 1970: “With this album, we dedicate ourselves, our futures and our energies to the people of the revolution … and the revolution in all its forms.”

That was the album with “Make Me Smile” on it — oooooh that must have really made “The Man” shake in his boots! This is a group whose easy-listening horn charts made Blood, Sweat and Tears sound like bad-asses. Now, after the inevitable MOR ballads, the big-band tribute disc and the Christmas album, they’re touring as an oldies act. Their “energies,” like “the revolution,” died and began decomposing decades ago. The Windy City ought to sue them for slander.

Mums the Wordless

The Wordless Music Series (Southern Theater, Friday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m., $22)

If you saw Meredith Monk at the Walker earlier this year, or an earlier edition of this series at the Southern back in April, you know how much so-called wordless music can resonate, simultaneously relaxing your nerves and stimulating your brain cells. Tonight’s typically ambitious concert matches Andrew Broder, the dynamic guitarist from the local band Fog, with electronica artist Cepia, and classical percussionist Owen Weaver, performing the music of John Cage, Philip Glass and Iannis Xenakis.

AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted sitcom director

Ice Cube (Myth Nightclub, Wednesday, Sept. 10, $33 in advance, $35 day of show)

Let’s come full circle and focus on a rapper who came to fame in the ’90s and is touring behind a new disc – “Raw Footage,” which features Nas and a boatload of other guest stars. Context is everything, of course, and it is a tad more difficult to suspend disbelief as Cube tries to reenter the gangsta-lean thuggishness of his prime-time on the mic with NWA and his classic solo joint, “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.” This is, after all, the same dude behind the Barbershop movies and the saccharine family flick, “Are We There Yet?” No wonder his most credible rhymes refer to his need to get paid. That said, the man can still deliver the goods, er, bads, with plenty of oomph.

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