Nas/Cee Lo/Pete Rock/Diplo/J Cole
Some Random Warehouse
Saturday, November 13
Better Than: The same show sponsored by almost anyone else.
“How can you not have a good time when this is free?” shouted hip-hop artist Bua as we walked into Saturday night’s Heineken-sponsored Inspire Encore show. Not only that, but it came with perks: Along with performances by Nas, Cee-Lo, Pete Rock, and Diplo, the event featured a line of food carts (tacos, hot dogs, Jamaican-beef patties), Internet-equipped laptops, ping-pong and foosball tables, and a six-hour open bar. As for the “surprise guest”? It wasn’t Kanye.
The show was no secret by the time we arrived at the pop-up venue under the Manhattan Bridge. Close to a thousand people gathered in a sprawling warehouse covered in huge LCD screens and logo-wrapped bars — with a huge, brightly lit stage front and center — while a handful of hopefuls lurked outside the gates. Diplo was perched in a DJ booth on the corner of the stage, quickly reminding us that we were at a corporate event: rap hits, M.I.A., Santigold, and a blip of dubstep all found a way into the mix. Fitting for tonight’s crowd of hip kids, contest winners, “industry people,” and assorted riffraff. “I stood outside for at least an hour,” one guy slurred at me as I entered. “I secretly copied some guy’s code in line and texted it to myself to get in.”
As usual with an all-inclusive, no-reentry event, most of the initially overeager crowd was drunk and tired by the time the night’s surprise guest and first performer, J Cole, took the stage. It was hard to tell how many people knew who the young rapper was, and how many were drunkenly singing along to a chorus or two of “Who Dat.” Next came Pete Rock, who took over the decks for another painfully obvious mainstream-friendly mix (things we’d expect to hear in a top-40 hip-hop set, but certainly not from this guy). Nearby, a group of giddy girls tried to wave down Omarion, who looked on from a VIP booth. He was unresponsive, though Kanye’s ex, Amber Rose, did take notice. (We wondered why the girls weren’t after Tyson Beckford, instead.)
By 8 p.m., we were antsy and anxiously awaiting the next act. Others had approached the night with a plan — getting a free beer and heading straight to the bathroom line to drink up just in time for their turn at the port-o-potty trailer. “I can hear the music just fine from here,” joked one girl. “I might as well make the most of my free pregame.” Finally, DJ Kool Herc took the mic to introduce Cee Lo, resplendent in an all-white suit (top hat and cane included). Backed by a band of women in white lace, the singer went through songs from The Lady Killer, but was acutely aware of the lack of audience participation. “Can we get you to dance tonight?” he asked with a chuckle. “It’s cool, I’m bored, too.” To be fair, the massive concrete building didn’t help the sound, though a couple hundred people did emphatically sing along to “Fuck You.”
Who knows if the long, inebriated night had finally taken its toll on the crowd, or if it was the bars closing up that sent them packing, but the audience began to thin out soon thereafter, even with Nas yet to come. Thankfully, most of us were sober enough to stay — the room exploded with energy as soon as the rapper bounded onstage. He stuck to the classics, letting us take the chorus of “If I Ruled the World,” doing “NY State of Mind” with a glowing LCD backdrop that read “Respect,” and bringing Pete Rock back out for an especially hyped rendition of “The World Is Yours.” As we walked out, we noticed that even the cops lurking nearby seemed to be fascinated by the show’s massiveness. “What were you doing in there?” a cop asked a girl as she left, referring to the fact that she couldn’t stand up straight. “Oh, just living the dream,” she replied.
Critical Bias: Cee Lo, you’re not getting paid to be bored.
Overheard: “Diplo is hot.” x347
Random Notebook Dump: Lady cops dancing on a ledge and taking cell-phone pics of Nas: so rad.