Live: Pusha T And Ryan Leslie Win Some And Lose Some

FlashFWD Awards featuring Pusha T and Ryan Leslie
Gramercy Theater
June 8, 2011

Better than: Watching two sets by Ryan Leslie.

An award show wouldn't be an award show without winners and losers, speeches that run for too long, fashion mistakes and surprises. The FlashFWD Awards, a night of Internet self-celebration, had some of those things. But who won and who lost during the music that immediately followed?

The big winners tonight were the members of Pusha T's band. Most backing bands of rappers don't know how to perform hip-hop songs. (There's a reason that no one talks about when Jay-Z and Linkin Park teamed up.) These guys, though, were tight and beefy like a Hanes tee, enhancing Pusha's sound, scratching up "Grindin" on the turntables and giving "My God" a proper synth treatment. At one point an audible was called, and at Pusha's suggestion, the band tore through an unrehearsed version of "Feeling Myself," somehow making the ladies' joint from Fear of God pretty listenable! The best was when they threw percussion claps and snaps on "Popeyes." It was as if Pharrell had produced the 2010 song during his seven-years-ago heyday.

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Live: Rick Ross Lives Out His Dreams At Summer Jam

Hot 97 Summer Jam
New Meadowlands Stadium
Sunday, June 5

Better than: Sitting at home and moping like 50 Cent.

Rick Ross closed out Summer Jam.

Just so there's no revisionist history here, let's remember how incredible that statement is. Three years ago, Ross was the punching bag of hip-hop, the laughingstock of the streets. After recording countless verses that fetishized Tony Montana fantasies, someone pinched him—Ross' cartoonish thought bubble vanished into thin air, and he was rudely snapped back to reality. He wasn't a druglord superhero; he was William Roberts, a grown man playing dress-up, a former correctional officer who wanted to be a rapper so badly that he rewrote his personal history. Two years ago, he wasn't being played on New York radio.

And here, onstage at Giants Stadium, was Rick Ross—his chest puffed out, his black-and-yellow Hawaiian shirt open wide but still somehow stretching tight—cheered on by fifty thousand strong. They welcomed his street anthem, "B.M.F.," chanting a chorus and cadence that, in various incarnations, has blasted out of car windows on 125th ever since it came out last summer: "I think I'm Big Meech, Larry Hoover." Rick Ross can make up a lot of things, but even he couldn't make this up.

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The 10 Best Verses From Kanye West's Good Friday Project, So Far

kanye good friday overview.jpg
As sustained, goodwill-generating rap publicity stunts go, Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Fridays series is almost entirely without precedent. Other rappers, guys like Freeway and Crooked I, have given away free music in regular installments, but those guys are B-listers and supporting players, and they didn't exactly bring out a head-spinning guest star with every new installment. Other big names like Lil Wayne have given away vast amounts of free music, but they've never turned it into a ritualistic, cohesive project the way Kanye has. Ten weeks in (about halfway through), we've got 55 minutes that'd make a pretty incredible album in their own right after minimal sequencing tweaks.

These tracks tend to be big, ominous, portentous, piling on the sinister sonics and weird little production details. And every week, Kanye's Hawaii studio retreat gets a little bit more mysterious. Is he really just flying all these guys down, letting them talk shit over whatever he came up with this week? Part of his initial charm was that he seemed like an everyfan suddenly given absurd access: Plenty of people might've wondered how Mos Def and Freeway would've sounded next to each other, but only Kanye had the position and the inclination to make it happen. That's back in play here. He's putting Raekwon on a Justin Bieber remix, or tossing Rick Ross right next to Bon Iver's Justin Vernon for the fuck of it. And now that we've got a nice round number of G.O.O.D. Fridays tracks to work with, it's an opportune time to check back through what he's given us so far and pick out some standout verses.

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