Bag it Up: A Reflection

Last night I went to a Blackstreet concert. Yes, that Blackstreet. My friend got free tickets to New Jack Swing 2015, featuring Blackstreet, Guy, and El Debarge, and she was kind enough to invite me. I didn’t think twice. How many people have the opportunity to hear “No Diggity” live for free? Probably anyone who goes to an Atlanta mall on a Saturday afternoon, or Citibank employees who went on the corporate retreat in 2000. I was excited, nonetheless. 

The concert was at the new Kings Theatre in Flatbush, which is a beautifully restored space with a super-friendly staff. After arriving and going through security (I get nervous every time I go through a metal detector and have my bag searched, like maybe someone planted something on me), we made our way to our seats. The show hadn’t started yet, but a DJ was spinning old school hip-hop hits, and the crowd was live. It was a “grown and sexy” audience, and they were not afraid to back it up to some Mary J. Blige. 

Eventually, Teddy Riley and Friends made their way to the stage, and the crowd went wild. I’ll be honest, our section was not quite full, meaning it was pretty empty. But those who were around us made up for it with their energy.  I had expected to see El Debarge first, but no, they just jumped straight to the headliners, which I thought was an interesting tactic. Don’t make them wait for it. My guess is that one of the members of Blackstreet had to wake up early on Sunday morning for church and requested to go first, so that he could get a good night of sleep.

I must say, the dudes killed it. I hadn’t ancticipated much choreography, but they did more spins, contagion snaps, and bodyrolls than any of us knew we wanted. Clad entirely in matching white, they jumped around the stage just as much as I imagine they did 20 years ago (unfortunately, I didn’t attend many R&B concerts as a child, so I can’t be sure…though I did see En Vogue at Six Flags when I was about seven, and I hate that I don’t have a clearer memory of that). 

They wasted no time getting to the hits. The second song they sang was “Don’t Leave Me.” Luckily, the words to the chorus were projected onto the screen behind the guys, so even those fools who didn’t know the six lyrics could sing along. When the lyrics weren’t being projected, an image of pink and red raining hearts took over the screen. And then a giant rotating computer-generated rose, in front of which those same tiny hearts rained. It was pretty good. 

 

Giant rose w/hearts + Teddy Riley or somebody

 

Later, the guys ran from backstage with handfuls of long-stemmed red roses. They writhed and gyrated, while women with fresh relaxers in Carlos Santana shoes flocked to the stage. Their dreams had come true. The men tossed the roses at the women whilst doing sensual dance moves (no easy feat, to be sure). All I could think, as the women jumped up and down, was “good for you, girlfriend.”  

Roses. Love.

Teddy then spent a fair amount of time singing other artists’ songs. I think he produced or wrote all of the songs, so it’s cool, but it was really confusing to hear him sing “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown and “Right Here/Human Nature” by SWV. But I loved it, of course. At one point, the screen flashed “Teddy” about six times in a row, then “You Jam” “Teddy” “You Jam.” I mean, he did jam, so I couldn’t argue.  

Finally, the group sang “No Diggity,” which made my life. Then they sang some other songs, and I checked my phone. Then it was intermission. 

The bathroom conversation was excellent. “It’s a party in there!” was uttered more than once. And each time, more and more people agreed. Maybe someone said, “Teddy is jamming!” but maybe not, and it was just his not-so-subliminal messaging working. In any case, people couldn’t wait for more. 

But they had to, because intermission was an hour. This would have been annoying had the DJ not been amazing and played every Ja Rule song known to man. There were a lot of late old school songs, plus 90s and early 2000s hits, and then “Truffle Butter,” which made no sense, but I’m always on board with that one. 

When we went back out, it was Guy time. Just to be clear, Teddy Riley is in both Blackstreet and Guy. But Guy is older, started in 1988, so the true die-hard Teddy Riley fans were really in their element now. I was a little indifferent, until Johnny Gill came out, and I was like “what is happening,” then Wreckx-N-Effect came out and sang “Rump Shaker,” and I was all “I can’t.” It was fantastic. Also, they kept doing that new, cool thing where they say, “Now scream!” and everyone obeyed. That was fun. 

There were a number of times when Teddy would single out the people in the house “over 25,” without realizing that no one in the audience was close to 25. He’d say, “Only stand up for this song if you’re over 25,” and I’d stand up but have no idea what the song was. I don’t know that he’s totally clear on what year it is. Also, I went to the bathroom at one point, and when I came back, he was just in the middle of the audience, on a chair or something, singing with his shirt off. 

Before we knew it, the show was over. El Debage never came out, and no one really cared. All in all, it was a great night. No diggity, no doubt.

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Demo

On Monday morning, my boyfriend and I stepped onto the train together. The train was pretty full, but we were able to find seats. As we sat down, we heard something loud coming from the corner. There a man sat, a bluetooth speaker in his lap, blasting very loud, very bad rap music. He and his girlfriend nodded along. 

This didn’t seem so unusual at first. Most New Yorkers have been on a subway car with someone blasting ratchet music from his cell phone. And it’s obnoxious, of course. But this was different, and not just because this guy thought went through the trouble of hooking up his music to this massive bluetooth speaker. David and I listened for a moment, and both of us were unable to identify the terrible song playing (normally if we put our hip-hop brains together, we can come to some conclusion). 

“It’s his own music,” said David. 

This made sense. The production value was terrible (think Casio keyboard circa 1999), and the flow was, for lack of a better word, wack. I couldn’t totally understand the lyrics, which isn’t unusual (how many times have I mumbled along to a YG song before realizing what was happening, and then uttering a silent prayer for forgiveness?). Thankfully, the aspiring rapper and his girlfriend (I assume she was not his wife…a man like that can’t be tied down) would chime in every few words, as rappers are wont to do. We would just hear rap, rap, rap, GOLD CHAINS, rap, rap, rap, MASERATI, rap, rap, rap, BOOTIES. I mean, staples. Yes. But it’s been done. Maybe try something a little more original. Also (#noshade) but I’m 90% sure this guy never set foot inside a Maserati. I never have. I don’t think anyone I know ever has. There is no shame in not being supremely rich. I’m just saying, might be better to keep it real.

Also, it’s worth noting that this was not a young man. I’d guess he was between 45 and 50, which is not necessarily prime for being discovered in the rap industry. Maybe things are changing? But no, they’re not. If you’re a rapper over 25, you better rhyme tight. And you better know somebody. And you better be able to keep up and know the language and trends. Like, please no who “My Woes” are before trying to be a rapper in 2015 (I dont’ know what that means, but I’m not tryna rap. Also, please let me know if it’s an offensive term, I’ve been using it quite regularly). 

So, this guy was steady rapping, and everyone was mad. The woman across from me was reading a New York Times and just boiling. She kept sending her stink eye down the train, and I was like, Girl. Relax. You don’t know him. He might be crazy. It’s true. We all read and watch the news. People are insane. I would have loved to shake this man and tell him how terrible his music was, and that nobody wanted to hear it in the morningtime. I would have loved to scold him for all of the coarse language he was blasting while tiny elementary school children sat right across from him, but I’m not yet comfortable using the term ‘coarse language’ aloud. And again, everyone is crazy. You never know when someone might pull out a weapon, or spit on you, or give you a demo CD then ask for a five dollar “donation.” So I kept my mouth shut. 

I’m all for following your dreams, but if you’re goal is to become a rapper, maybe don’t force your terrible sounds on innocent people on their way to work. I mean, aspiring actors don’t just hop on the train and perform a monologue. Psychology students don’t get on and ask if anyone has an issue they’d like to discuss (that would be a nightmare, the student would never leave the train). I’d encourage this guy to go the traditional route, and just post something on YouTube or Vine.

[I hope you enjoyed my attempt at using hip-hop terminology]