Halfway through his set at Saturday's Audiotistic show, rapper Nas led the crowd in an anti-President Bush chant. Whatever your feelings about his politics, you have to respect the fact that at least the New Yorker had something to say beyond "where my ladies at?"
But one wouldn't expect anything less at Audiotistic, the self-proclaimed "future sound festival."
Although most all-day music festivals of late have become nothing more than an excuse to party, Audiotistic, a gathering of dance and hip-hop acts, is increasingly becoming a desert in the oasis.
From headliners Nas, Big Boi (of OutKast)and the Chemical Brothers through such acts as Talib Kweli, King Britt, Sandra Collins, Blackalicious and Donald Glaude, the seventh annual Audiotistic, held at the L.A. Sports Arena and its surrounding grounds, celebrated the best of today's dance and hip-hop.
There were several standout moments early in the day, from Kweli's lyrical flow to DJ Glaude's high-energy, crowd-pleasing set, which included such diverse selections as the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" leading into Lipps Inc.'s disco classic "Funkytown."
Fellow DJ King Britt delivered a masterful mix of down-tempo, jazzy grooves, while hip-hop act Blackalicious also stood out for its blend of funk hip-hop and positive beats.
Inside the Sports Arena, where the main dance stage was set up, fans packed the floor at least halfway back for a DJ set by the Chemical Brothers. The duo took a few minutes to get into their groove, but once they did, they turned the Sports Arena into a frenzied dance club.
Against a backdrop of lasers, jumbo video screens and enthusiastic fist-waving from the throng, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands, taking turns behind the decks, let loose the large synthesizer hooks and percussive grooves that have made them the reigning kings of the dance scene.
With OutKast's new CD "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" a commercial and critical success, Big Boi's set was arguably the most anticipated of the day.
Performing outside on the main stage, he delivered all the diversity one would expect from the duo's albums.
Within a few moments, he led the crowd on a sonic journey from hard-edged, almost gangster rap beats to an orchestral segment. Big Boi also performed many of OutKast's biggest hits, including "Ms. Jackson," in almost a medley fashion, seamlessly moving from one tune into the next.
It would have been a hard act for most to follow, but Nas was up to the task. The charismatic rapper has had some personal and commercial ups and downs in recent years, but artistically he remains at the peak of his powers.
Encouraged by a crowd that knew his every word, the rapper drew heavily on his 2002 "comeback" album, "God's Son." In the live setting, the thought-provoking "The Cross" had an added ferocity, while the ballad-like "Heaven" took on a sweet, tender quality.
At one point early in the set, Nas proclaimed, "This is real rap." No question. There were a few pop hooks, on "If I Ruled the World," but the majority of his 45-minute set was devoted to straightforward beats with his powerful vocals squarely at the center.