Good Times, Gangsta Style

The Hard Knock Life tour puts on a happy face.

Coming after this moment of high (and slightly ridiculous) drama, Jay-Z got theatrical himself via a filmed segment that showed him and his posse allegedly escaping from police custody and racing to the Coliseum. But the mini-flick was lame even by music-video standards, and by the time Jay-Z emerged from a hole in the stage, a bigger-than-expected percentage of the crowd was already heading for the exits. This partial desertion of the evening's headliner didn't make much sense from a sales perspective: Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life was one of the most popular CDs last year, and six months after its release, it remains among the top twenty most-popular discs in the country, with sales in excess of four million copies. But the material on the album has been overplayed for so long that even those who see it as a work of genius are probably sick of it by now, and Jay-Z's lackadaisical performance style didn't help matters much, even on tracks as catchy as "Ride or Die," "Nigga What, Nigga Who" and "Can I Get a..." Using Master P as an apparent role model, he came across like a hip-hop CEO, seldom taxing himself and farming out responsibilities to his minions as often as he could. His segment of the show was only about forty minutes long, and over five of those were given over to one of the dullest turntablist displays

in the genre's history. Even Jay-Z didn't stick around to see it.
Still, he redeemed himself in the end. Between "Money, Cash, Hoes," an ultra-stupid salvo that paired him with DMX, and "Hard Knock Life," which rides atop a sample from the ultimate gangsta movie, Annie, Jay-Z announced that he and the other men on the bill were donating the proceeds of the concert to a charity, the Healing Fund, created to assist victims of the Columbine catastrophe. (At least one other national group, Eve 6, did likewise at a separate show.)

The gesture stood in contrast to the vigorous hucksterism that took place throughout the show. (Staffers waved placards advertising current and future albums by the players, and DMX's arrival was preceded by an actual commercial for a new compilation issued under the name of an umbrella organization called Ruff Ryders.) But it also made a certain kind of sense. Hip-hop has been blamed for so many criminal acts that the rappers were probably thrilled that they weren't taking the fall for this one. Besides, the Hard Knock Life tour has gone far smoother than most observers anticipated. "This is going to open a lot of doors for other groups to come through," Jay-Z said, "and we're definitely coming back."

The concert was not without contradictions: Method Man's "Dangerous Grounds" featured the sound of a shotgun being cocked and fired, and Jay-Z's final chant of "Peace!" was accompanied by a bomb-like explosion. But to the delight of everyone present, no other blasts were heard inside the Coliseum that night. Maybe hip-hop isn't that dangerous after all.

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