Better Than: Farmville
“Why am I here?” That’s the refrain that kept running through my head as I walked into Capitale on the Bowery last night, where Nas, 2 Chainz, Miguel, Elle Varner and a whole host of hip-hop and R&B artists emerged to celebrate the launch of Gig-IT, a new performance-based Facebook app that was celebrating its launch. At first the question seemed legit; this was a corporate event to the max — industry types mingled with a crowd dressed strictly for the club in the impressively immaculate room — but the talent on display rendered the question mostly irrelevant.
It was strange, that’s for sure — the event was kept almost completely under wraps, or at least that was what it seemed beforehand, with few people even having heard it was happening. But don’t tell that to the hip-hop community. The number of artists that were just there to hang out — Ne-Yo, French Montana, Raekwon, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and alleged appearances by Rick Ross and Jamie Foxx — didn’t even match those that hit the stage. In a stacked lineup that didn’t even seem possible, much less real, Miguel, Elle Varner, Fabolous, 2 Chainz and Nas all played abbreviated performances in what could only be described as one of the greater bills that could fit on just one side of an old cassette tape in recent New York history.
Everyone was there due to their involvement, to varying degrees, with Gig-IT, a new app that allows users to create digital showcases on their Facebook pages, with customizable outfits, set lists, performances, and everything in between. It almost functions as a hip-hop Farmville, a comparison that the creators were eager to both play up and distance themselves from with their slogan of #This Aint No Farm, which permeated most aspects of the heavily-branded room. But for what essentially works as seemingly just another app to add on to your already-crowded Facebook pages, the star power they’ve nabbed is enough to give it a certain level of legitimacy.
The night kicked off a little before 9 p.m. with a performance by Allison Smith, whose Grace Potter-esque, powerful vocals were a welcome introduction to the evening, though many were not paying attention. But everyone snapped to as Miguel took the stage, adorned as he was with a leather jacket and enough soulful falsetto to bring the crowd streaming to the front of the stage. Kicking his set off with his Grammy-winning “Adorn,” Miguel then dedicated a birthday tribute of “Sweat That” which left the majority of people wishing it was they to whom it was dedicated.
But the corporate aspect to the night reared its strange and obnoxiously-dressed head to the forefront during each performance. This was the type of show people watched through the screen of their iPads, despite the fact that there were maybe seven hundred people in attendance and the majority of the audience was within 15 feet of each performer at any given time (Full disclosure: horrible judge of telling number of people in a room, much less jelly beans in a jar). Once you’ve watched someone take a photo of Miguel on their iPad, then turn the camera on themselves to check out and fix their hair (WHILE MIGUEL IS STILL PERFORMING 10 FEET AWAY), you’ve really grasped the fact that the music was really a secondary attraction to the “scene” itself. And, of course, an open bar goes a long way toward encouraging shameless narcissism.
The guest celebrity highlights were near-constant, though they were mostly limited to Gig-IT-endorsing cameos. The one that got the biggest pop was Busta Rhymes — an unannounced guest, who nonetheless showed up with Miami’s DJ Irie to tout the greatness of the new app. “This is Gig-IT. This is the future,” Irie said, before deferring to the night’s hosts DJ Khaled and LaLa, who proceeded to bring French Montana out on stage immediately afterward. The hits, as they were, just kept coming.
But even though no performance lasted longer than 10 minutes or so, that didn’t stop some artists from making a big impact. Elle Varner, who is quickly gaining serious attention as both a songwriter of considerable skill and a fantastic singer, only did one track — but her rendition of “Refill” was stunning in its almost effortless execution. She had such command over her voice that it almost seemed she could reach any octave she put her mind to at a moment’s notice, and flashed that skill brilliantly. Fabolous followed with a cameo that included “You Be Killin ‘Em,” before Khaled re-emerged to remind everyone that President Obama came out to his track “All I Do Is Win” at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this weekend — ironically, mind you, since the only way to ingest DJ Khaled is with a healthy dose of irony — by saying “if you got love for We The Best Music AND Barack Obama, make some noise!” A shameless plug during a night that was full of them.
Almost ironically — if it wasn’t so branded to the hilt, that is — the two headlining performers, 2 Chainz and Nas, were squeezed into about a 20 minute-block of time as the event tried desperately to finish at its previously-appointed 11 o’clock end time. While the Hair Weave Killa came out to the beginnings of “Birthday Song,” he quickly transitioned into a toned-down cocktail of “I’m Different” and “No Lie,” — which despite their brevity, were outstanding — before tossing the microphone nonchalantly and walking coolly off stage. It’s not going to come as a surprise to many anymore, but 2 Chainz can’t really do any wrong these days, since he’s both the most ridiculous rapper in the game right now (all respects to Riff Raff and his ilk, but Chainz blows him out of the water and then some) and one of its best performers, what with his insanely catchy hooks and even more insanely catchy stage persona. And Chainz was off stage for all of three minutes before Khaled introduced “the star… the icon… the legend…” and brought out the pride of Queensbridge.
Coming out to “The Don,” Nas ran through abbreviated renditions of “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” and “If I Ruled the World” — forgetting the words to the second verse of the latter — before he hustled off the stage. People actually left before Nas went on, even though his set ended before the clock struck 11 pm. Any other time, you’d NEVER be able to see a living legend that early in the evening, particularly in New York. New York hip-hop may be on the up and up, but please, let’s not forget who delivered us there.
Still, despite the suit-and-tie, scene-centric and semi-stuffy atmosphere, the opportunity to see such great artists all together at such a small event can’t really be sneezed at. Though it left me to wonder, in the end, in the midst of all this corporate back-patting and self-promotion, “Why was I here?” Time to check my Facebook.
Number of Times 2 Chainz Yelled “2 Chainz!”: 7 (unofficial, though may have been in the hundreds)
Number of People Blinded by Shininess of Raekwon’s watch: 2 officially confirmed
Most Ridiculous Corporate Aspect: The bathrooms had business cards informing those washing their hands that shares of the parent company of Gig-It were available for 2 bucks a pop, with a minimum investment of $5k. Everything I own added up together would not be worth that much money, though to most in the room it probably wasn’t a stretch.