Apple Store (SoHo)
Wednesday, July 27
Better than: Waiting around the Genius Bar while a new trackpad gets installed in your MacBook.
“Things are different now. There are computers. Dudes are going in with the computers”, Black Rob proclaimed with a grin. Despite the obvious irony of him saying this in a tech junkie’s Mecca, there was a touching honesty in his sentiment. The hip-hop world, not to mention the world as a whole, has vastly changed since he first broke into the scene over a decade ago.
Back then, life was good and Black Rob was poised to be Harlem’s next breakout star. As part of The Family, helmed by The Artist Formerly Known As Puff Daddy, Rob collaborated with the likes of The Notorious B.I.G. and Ma$e. He provided Puff Daddy & The Family with enough street credibility to deflect some of the Shiny Suit Era’s glare and garner respect among hip-hop purists. His debut Life Story was laced with his vocal grit, and he laid down hard rhymes about larceny, Jezebels in the hood and narcotics alongside the radio-friendly standout “Whoa!” (While catchy, it’s probably for the best that it didn’t turn the phrase “like whoa” into the next “gettin’ jiggy wit it.”) But a lackluster second album, The Black Rob Report, coupled with incessant legal issues that included a four-year jail stint beginning in 2006 halted Rob’s career and he was all but written off.
As he stood in front of the 50 or so people congregated on the second floor of the Apple Store—male hip-hop loyalists, photographers, weary shoppers looking for a respite from browsing earbuds and laptop covers—Black Rob seemed hyperaware of this fact.
The show was a testament to minimalism, stripped of the Bad Boy theatrics and glitz. Donning a black t-shirt emblazoned with his moniker and the title of his just-released album Game Tested, Streets Approved (Duck Down Music Inc.), as well as a pair of sunglasses, his only onstage accoutrements were a DJ, an unbranded bottle of water and a Blackberry clipped to his hip in a less than sartorially forward fashion.
Rob performed a tight set that included his current single “Celebration,” an ode to enjoying life after incarceration, and “Showin’ Up,” which had lyrics—'”everything that glitter ain’t gold/ labels taking advantage of lost souls”—that, upon further listens, sounded like they could be thinly veiled references to Bad Boy and his former boss. Rob still has a gruff, crystal-clear voice, and he clearly hasn’t lost the hunger; last night he made each line and each audience interaction count.
The fans, however, wanted to hear the classics, with even snippets of tracks like “I Dare You” and “I Love You Baby” generating excitement. The latter is technically a Puff Daddy track that only has a guest appearance by Rob, but when he spit the first delicious lines outlining a woeful tale of romantic tragedy in upper Manhattan—”I met her uptown on Dyckman, aight then/ Talkin’ that, how she only dealt with businessmen”—the track’s billing seemed to be a minor point.
“I Love You Baby” was only topped by the show closer “Whoa!,” which even after all this time passed the head-nod test with flying colors. The incessantly repeated title and the song’s hypnotic, string-laden beat nearly turned the placid retail environment into The Tunnel—and it hit especially hard during a summer largely devoid of a quintessential hip-hop anthem. “Y’all wanna know if I still sound like BR?” Rob asked before jumping into his final number. Curiosity, nostalgia or some combination of the two might have been the initial reasons for people lingering in the Apple Store’s upstairs area last night, but by the end of Black Rob’s performance, it became clear that the answer to his question was a resounding yes.
Critical bias: Growing up in suburban Kalamazoo, Michigan, I was raised on Bad Boy’s brand of glossy, radio-friendly music and had a poster (regrettably ripped from the school library’s copy of Word Up!) of Puff Daddy & The Family taped to my Trapper Keeper to prove it.
Overheard: “Y’all got the illest sound system; I sound like the record!”—Black Rob, gushing over the pristine acoustics.
Random notebook (MacBook) dump: Earlier this week The Lox, another part of The Family, were surprise guests at Young Jeezy’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 anniversary concert. Perhaps the phrase “Bad Boy reunion tour” will no longer be a Generation Y pipe dream of mine.
I Love You Baby (snippet)
I Dare You (snippet)
Can’t Make It In NY
Wanna Get Dough