A simple table sat atop a riser slightly off center stage, which James D'Agostino – better known as DJ Green Lantern – climbed behind. You could hear a conversation through the speakers, as the three letters in front of Lantern’s table glowed.
Ni***s don’t listen man, representin’ it’s Illmatic
And then Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, burst out behind Lantern’s riser from "The Genesis" introduction of his 1994 debut right into "N.Y. State of Mind."
The rapper known as Nas turns 41 in September, and is touring behind the 20th anniversary of his debut – and now classic – album, "Illmatic," released in the spring of 1994. The record had just nine full tracks.
It was raw, stripped down – which fit his performance on the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse stage Tuesday night on the Summerfest grounds.
Wearing a simple black tee and black jeans, sunglasses, and an understated single gold chain and watch – along with a bottle of Hennessey – Nas performed the entire album from start to finish with his signature raspy vocals.
In between tracks he joked about how old the record was – "20 years ago this album came out on cassette tape! There are no more cassette tapes!" – and took one shot of liquor for the crowd.
He smiled often, most notably at the simple hook between the two verses "Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)."
Now let me take a trip down memory lane
Coming outta Queensbridge
How could he not enjoy it? He wrote that as a 21-year-old, and now was doing exactly that in a festival in Milwaukee.
Nas proved to be a polished stage general and truly seemed to be enjoying himself throughout the exactly 60-minute set. He tossed out the usual MC platitudes to Milwaukee, the ladies, the fellas, the hustlers, the weed smokers, etc., but it got the desire effect from the crowd.
But after finishing "Illmatic" 25 minutes after he came on at 10:13 p.m. (the delayed fireworks show may have pushed back his start time) he launched into a mix of medley’s and full songs from the last 20 years.
Some longtime favorites off his 1996 record "It Was Written" such as "The Message" and "Street Dreams" were cobbled together, but the crowd exploded for a full version of "I Ruled The World (Imagine That)."
See the track list below to see some of the songs he and Lantern expertly weaved together (fans shouldn’t forget the privilege of seeing Lantern work, either – this is one of the game’s best DJs and he proved it often Sunday night).
Other full track highlights included "Hate Me Now" and the impassioned "Got Ur Self A…" and "Made You Look" off 2001’s "Stillmatic."
Nas came full circle with "One Mic," his classic single of "Stillmatic."
Lantern began the song with opening words to Phil Collins’ "In The Air Tonight" and Nas took advantage of this simple stage setting for impact. He sat on Lantern’s riser to start each verse, and then rose with his vocals and worked the crowd up, to bring it down, only to push it to a new level.
He didn’t have a true encore, though the lights did come up when he finished "One Mic" at 10:57. He stayed on stage however and played with a stage hand side stage about how much additional time he had, which led him into another medley.
A second brief break led to his final song, "Stay," his single off his "Life Is Good" record, his last studio release from 2012.
While I’m not if the fireworks actually cut into his allotted time – he did his best to give fans of all of his records – even some bars off "The Firm" and "Nastradamus." It made sense that he didn’t touch his 2006 effort, "Hip Hop Is Dead," due to the celebratory nature of the 20th anniversary of "Illmatic."
Milwaukee native Prophetic opened, and in his third trip through Summerfest the MC ran into what many other acts have through the first week of the Big Gig – a somewhat lackluster crowd. Prophetic performed for 75 minutes, but lack of the energy coming from the crowd seemed to stifle his.
That said, he had a full venue to work to – and he deserved it. Interestingly enough, it took for some light rain to fall during "Autumn Sky" in the back half of his set to really get people engaged, and his set-ender of "In My ‘96" resonated.
N.Y. State Of Mind
Life’s A Bitch
The World Is Yours
Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)
Ain’t Hard To Tell
The Message/Street Dreams medley
If I Ruled The World
Hook to Nastradamus/Opening bars of Nas Is Like
Hate Me Now
Opening bars of Stillmatic
Got Ur Self A…
Made You Look
You’re Da Man / his verse on Live At The Barbecue / AZ’s verse on Affirmative Action / Phone Tap (The Firm)
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