Only one person got booed offstage at Power 106 FM’s sold-out Powerhouse concert at Anaheim’s Honda Center on Saturday night. Luckily for the show and its producers, it wasn’t one of the acts.
Halfway through the night’s nonstop lineup of hip-hop acts, the presiding DJs brought out a few local sports heroes, as they often do at Powerhouse. The Dodgers had won at Angels Stadium earlier that day, and before the host could even finish the phrase, “… From your Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,” the hissing started. The poor Angels player, Torii Hunter, was only a few hundred yards from his home field and he suffered the wrath of unforgiving fans. Only the arrival of the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp saved the darkening mood and brought out a few cheers.
Perhaps L.A. Dodgers fans were in a mood for gloating. But the catcalls might have said something about this year’s Powerhouse and the state of local hip-hop as well. Unlike previous years, which leaned heavily on the insurgent dance-infused pop-rap that dominates today’s airwaves, this year’s Powerhouse was relatively orthodox and old school. With a bill heavy on traditional MCs such as T.I., Young Jeezy, Compton’s Kendrick Lamar and (in regal post-Coachella form) Snoop Dogg, the set suggested that L.A. rap fans, like L.A. sports fans, are interested in some tried-and-true success.
PHOTOS: Powerhouse 2012
The undercard at Powerhouse is rarely worth an early arrival, filled with mini-sets by relative newbies, but this year’s was an entertaining hot mess. Local upstart Kid Ink mined a Drake-ish singing-rapping hybrid style on his hit “Time of Your Life.” The DC rapper Wale, on a second round of fame after joining Rick Ross’ Maybach Music squad, has a refined snarl of a delivery — but he unfortunately spent most of his set turning his ire on his own DJ (even, at one point encouraging the audience to boo him — maybe that makes two jeering victims for the night). The cackling rapper YG reaffirmed his claim to the least classy morning-after anthem ever penned as he performed his hit “Toot it and Boot It.”
The important part of the night truly started at Lamar’s set, and the 25-year-old proved he’s at an interesting juncture in rap stardom today. In the ’90s and early 2000s, to be Dr. Dre’s protege was to get the keys to a mansion with a Champagne moat. But despite a full-court press from nearly every serious figure in hip-hop, Lamar is working to break through to pop stardom. But he lived up to expectations here, roughing up his vocals and taking victory-lap trots through the songs “A.D.H.D.” and “The Recipe.”
Young Jeezy and T.I., each unimpeachable stalwarts of rap radio for the last decade, elaborated their tales of Atlanta drug culture in different ways. Jeezy, who relies more on rapping than his blustery ad-libs on his latest, “TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition,” softened his imposing presence a bit on “SupaFreak” and “Leave You Alone,” on which he was joined by Ne-Yo. T.I. has always leaned poppier, and though he alluded to his recent gun-running woes (“I had to take care of some things first”), his set was elastic and snappy -- and his guest MC, the Australian expat Iggy Azalea, made a worthy novice arena appearance.
The show’s final third seemed to misplace its priorities a bit. Snoop Dogg, fresh off playing to 140,000 people over two Coachella weekends, has become the éminence grise of the Power 106 universe. He could quit releasing new music entirely for the rest of his Doggfather reign and still headline shows like this on the strength of his catalog and slithery cool alone. So it felt weird that Roc Nation’s J. Cole and the local newbie Tyga, each young MCs figuring out their aesthetic, could headline over him.
The latter’s Lil Wayne cameo helped his bona fides, and Tyga’s clattering tune “Rack City” is a hit in any decade. But these days, Snoop seems to be aiming past mere rapping into the rare air of cultural transcendence. That’ll play in any arena.
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-- August Brown
Photo: Kendrick Lamar performs during Powerhouse, the annual summer show from the rap station Power 106 FM, at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times.