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Opening Act Ras Kass Proves More Compelling Than Nas

POP MUSIC REVIEW

August 31, 1996|CHEO HODARI COKER

Nas might be one of rap's best-selling artists, but he's got a wooden stage presence--as he showed in a performance Thursday night at the House of Blues in which his lackluster demeanor undercut the power of his rhymes.

Despite the dazzling lyrics in such vivid tales of urban reality as "I Gave You Power" and "One Love," the New Yorker didn't bring any fresh or revealing edges to the music on stage. We'd all have been better off just watching videos of the songs.

That's a shame because Nas is one of the most creative lyricists that hip-hop has yet produced. Nas' problems live were all the more obvious because of the charismatic opening act Thursday: Ras Kass, a Carson native whose formal debut album will be released Sept. 17 by Priority Records.

Like Nas, he is a rapid-fire rhyme-atician with an endless supply of metaphors and off-beat cadences. And his performance displayed more of the spontaneous invention upon which live hip-hop thrives.

Instead of just doing songs from his forthcoming album exactly as written, he had his live DJ mix in snippets of such varied recordings as Dr. Dre's "Deep Cover" and O.C.'s "Time's Up." As the music played, Ras Kass and fellow rapper Saafir traded intricate, off-the-cuff freestyle rhymes that made them underground heroes in the first place.

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