When you have a dozen of the hottest acts from a particular pop genre, as was the case with Saturday's sold-out "Powerhouse" concert at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, the temptation is to take advantage of the event to look for deeper meaning in the pop style.
Looking for insight into the world of hip-hop from the "Powerhouse" show, however, is like going to an "American Pie" double feature to study cinema.
Save for the pall cast over the show by the tragic news of the death of R&B singer Aaliyah, which left the artists backstage visibly shaken, "Powerhouse" was all about the party, which was exactly what radio station-organizer Power 106 wanted for its back-to-school bash.
With each of the acts limited to less than half an hour, no one artist had a chance to build too much momentum and overshadow Power, which paraded its on-air talent onstage between each act and congratulated itself repeatedly. The fans, who got to hear the songs they're familiar with, didn't seem to mind, though, and the show offered several musical highlights.
West Coast rapper Xzibit delivered a forceful 15-minute set characterized by his authoritative raps and strong flow. A high point was the engaging beats of "What's the Difference," a track he did with Dr. Dre. The disappointing aspect of his set was something that all of the acts, with the exception of Nelly, suffered from: a penchant for cliches employed between songs to draw a response from the crowd.
For those that don't have the skills to get the crowd going just with the music, the devices are understandable, if a bit sad, but talented rappers such as Xzibit, Ja Rule and Ludacris need to learn to trust their music more.
Seeing Ludacris, who has a wickedly fast rhyming style, rely on cliches was particularly maddening because he showed a glimpse of what he can do during the strangely effective a cappella rap "What Life Means to Me."
Despite a lot of boasting about fast cars, sex and money, the lack of musical clutter gave the words a feeling of honesty that he would do well to explore in the future.
Ja Rule had the unenviable task of coming on after Ludacris announced from the stage the news about Aaliyah. Despite the difficult circumstances, the emcee displayed the compelling vocals that made his "Rule 3:36" album one of last year's best.
Notable as much for their professionalism as their sets were Shaggy and DJ Quik. While both were despondent about Aaliyah backstage, they delivered two of the most celebratory performances, with Shaggy especially shining as his silky vocals on the dance-hall-flavored "Angel" and "Wasn't Me" provided a welcome contrast to the beat-heavy hip-hop sets.
If any act came close to overshadowing the rest of the night, it was St. Louis rapper Nelly, playing his first big area show since his "Country Grammar" album went multiplatinum. Backed by the St. Lunatics, Nelly came through with a high-energy role through his hip-hop version of "Movin' on Up" (the theme song to "The Jeffersons") and the ubiquitous, though engaging album title track.
His flair for showmanship, catchy hooks and charisma could make him a pop star for a long time. Indeed, that may be the deeper meaning of "Powerhouse." If so, it's certainly a positive message, considering how few of the acts from other genres on the pop charts seem likely to be remembered in five years.