Kanye West, Bun B, Wu-Tang Clan: Hip Hop Tears It Up Live

It’s really beautiful when it happens.

It makes the music better.

It makes the live show that much more compelling.

It’s good to see hip hop’s softer side.

Even if it’s still hard to really get the full story behind what makes rappers like Bun B, Kanye West and the Wu Tang Clan shed a tear on stage, lyrical or liquid sodium-based, it always makes me perk up and listen closer as the beats blast from the speakers at a live show.

Here are three examples of moments I’ve come across in the last year that really made me stop and think about how hip hop artists express sorrow as they grieve the loss of band mates and family members who have died in the midst of touring and recording.

In an interview with XLR8R magazine this past April, rapper Bernard Freeman (a.k.a. Bun B of UGK), expresses is sadness in the wake of his longtime partner Pimp C who died last year of heart failure.

It was probably the first time I cried on stage. It was just real. But there weren’t many dry eyes in the room. I’m not the only person that loves Pimp C, and I know it. The crowd goes through it, too, [so] I gotta help them get through this the right way. “One Life” and “Hi Life” are powerful testimonies. I never really understood, until the last couple years, how much those records meant to people. It’s a very, very real thing.”

What was it like to step back on the stage with Pimp?

Then there’s the Wu Tang Clan. They probably have the most violent and aggressive way of showing their sadness of losing ODB in 2004. During their Rock the Bells tour stop in 2007 they shouted numerous times in tribute, physically punctuating their statements by whipping Hennessey and Heineken bottles from the stage and casting insults—some humorous others incendiary—into the crowd. A different more violent type of expression but nonetheless, much of what I saw during that show last year in Chicago was fueled by the memory and painful loss of ODB.

And during Kanye West’s Lollapalooza set it was the sorrow surrounding his mother passing that made his performance one of the best of Lollapalooza 2008 and one of the best examples of a hip hop artist channeling the deep sorrow of losing a family member into a riveting and compelling live show. It was a performance that far exceeded West’s last two tours. And it will be a hard one to top when it comes time to see him again.

I know there’s more but these three are more than enough to get us thinking beyond the one’s and two’s…

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