REVIEW: Nas at Summerfest – 7/1

As Nas pointed out on stage at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Tuesday night, “Not a lot of people get to see their stuff live for 20 years like this”. In this case, he was talking in particular about 1994’s “Illmatic”, regarded by many as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, if not the single greatest. Coming off of the sensory overload of The Big Bang (which finally happened!), the Harley stage was packed to the brick walls in the back of the area, and then some. What was most surprising, though, was how diverse the crowd was. In my direct line of vision, I had a mix of old and new Nas fans, along with old white guys with grey hair, middle aged women holding cups of wine while nodding their head, and in the back I could see grade school aged kids dancing on pillars and ice machines. That’s the real testament to 20 years of Nas’ career.

That being said, this show was in no way similar to rock acts like The Rolling Stones or The Who in their 20th year. This was Nas holding his own, armed with a liquor bottle, shades, and a mic, working a very enthusiastic crowd. DJ Green Lantern, a legend in his own right, hyped the crowd before Nas hit the stage, and they proceeded to tear through music like it was nobody’s business. In an almost seamless string of music, they went through all of “Illmatic”, disappointing absolutely no one. Nas was quick to point out the age of the album by calling it a cassette tape throughout the night, and mentioning that “they don’t even make cassette tapes anymore” (Not true, Nas.) But while they could have slowed down after that, Green Lantern and Nas kept it going, proving that for as great as “Illmatic” is, it doesn’t need to be left alone in Nas’ catalog.

The rest of the night was a string of hits from slightly more recent material over a 20 plus year career. There wasn’t a lot of new material in the set list, and for the hip hop heads in the crowd, there didn’t need to be. The set quickly jumped to hits from 2001’s “Stillmatic”, as well as 2002’s “God’s Son”. Singles from the latter album “I Can” and “Made You Look” got some of the biggest responses of the night, and there was no slowing down Nas’ momentum. The set even closed with the acclaimed “One Mic” from “Stillmatic”, but there was no sign of age at 50 or so minutes into the show. He also wasted no time going into what was technically his encore, leaving no chance for anyone to leave or complain. It was clear that Nas and DJ Green Lantern put on a clinic as to how to run a hip hop show, and it left no question as to why they’re both hip hop legends.

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