Live: Pusha T And Ryan Leslie Win Some And Lose Some


FlashFWD Awards featuring Pusha T and Ryan Leslie
Gramercy Theater
June 8, 2011

Better than: Watching two sets by Ryan Leslie.

An award show wouldn’t be an award show without winners and losers, speeches that run for too long, fashion mistakes and surprises. The FlashFWD Awards, a night of Internet self-celebration, had some of those things. But who won and who lost during the music that immediately followed?

The big winners tonight were the members of Pusha T’s band. Most backing bands of rappers don’t know how to perform hip-hop songs. (There’s a reason that no one talks about when Jay-Z and Linkin Park teamed up.) These guys, though, were tight and beefy like a Hanes tee, enhancing Pusha’s sound, scratching up “Grindin” on the turntables and giving “My God” a proper synth treatment. At one point an audible was called, and at Pusha’s suggestion, the band tore through an unrehearsed version of “Feeling Myself,” somehow making the ladies’ joint from Fear of God pretty listenable! The best was when they threw percussion claps and snaps on “Popeyes.” It was as if Pharrell had produced the 2010 song during his seven-years-ago heyday.

Pusha himself was plagued by a host of sound and lighting problems. Wearing black on black on black, he’d step anywhere but the center of the stage, only to be immediately lost to the shadows; if not for his black diamond Jesus chain, he’d be confused for a stagehand. As such, much of his effort—a one-man game of charades, where he tries to act out his every lyric—was for naught.

The biggest losers of the evening: Anyone who stayed for Ryan Leslie’s set, a six-song nightmare that took forty minutes to get through. Leslie’s always been a good R&B singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, but, seemingly jealous of Drake’s rapid ascent, last year, he made a very unwise decision and decided that he wanted to rap. He appeared on a couple of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Friday tracks, and he never realized that rap skills are not transferred through osmosis: hanging out with Lloyd Banks and Fabolous does not a rapper one make.

The problem of the set boiled down to a simple fact: Ryan Leslie is one of very few people who wants to hear Ryan Leslie rap. Herky-jerky and horribly awkward, he has the stage presence of Woody from Toy Story. Isn’t this guy supposed to be smooth? With his shoulders lurched forward and posed in an aggressive stance, the Harvard grad unconvincingly spit bars like “Told her bring her girlfriend ’cause they might be dykes.” As if that weren’t bad enough, that was during “Breathe,” a song performed with special guest Mr. Hudson, who also adopted a sense of machismo, one that no one would associate with him. (And if you’re wondering whether Mr. Hudson can play the drums, he sort of can; he did a simple Buddy Rich one-two beat while Ryan played the Korg, and a jam session was born.) Every song was stretched past its logical endpoint so that Ryan could show off his musicality. Solos begat solos, and the clock ticked on. It was gratuitous, self-indulgent, and a waste of time. It was an award show unto itself.

Critical bias: I have never won an Internet award. Never even been nominated.

Overheard: “Is this guy seriously going to play the piano and rap? Because if that’s happening, then I’m out of here. Leave that to a girl on a Drake song.”

Random notebook dump: I didn’t even talk about Ryan’s dumb fucking red pants or his weird blousy shirt.

Set lists:
Pusha T:
Cook it down
So Appalled
Popeyes (Back By Popular Demand)
Open Your Eyes
Feeling Myself
My God

Ryan Leslie:
Joan of Arc
Breathe (with Mr. Hudson)
Something That I Like
Beautiful Lie
Diamond Girl