Power 106 Powerhouse
June 22, 2013
On Saturday night, thousands of hip-hop fans converged on Powerhouse–the yearly celebration of all things current in hip-hop and R&B courtesy of L.A.'s KPWR 105.9 FM. The lineup, headlined by R&B's ever-polarizing star Chris Brown, capped a bill teeming with of-the-minute hit makers including Tyga, Big Sean, Future, Problem, ASAP Rocky and Drop City Yacht Club at the Honda Center in Anaheim. From the time it was announced last month, this year's show relied on an extra dose of new-school swag due to the fact that marquee old timers like Snoop Dogg (er, Lion), Ice Cube and Jay-Z were nowhere to be found on the bill (unless you count the Game, you showed up shirtless to perform with Tyga).
Aside from being emblematic of the permanent change in the format of mainstream hip-hop radio, Powerhouse has also shown mastery in converting a block of airtime into an actual concert, complete with boisterous product commercials, radio DJ cameos from Big Boy's and his neighborhood posse and machine gun song medleys that rarely get past the first chorus before switching tracks. But for all the esoteric belly aching about the shallow state of FM radio, one element of Power's influence that translates much better than the artists at the show is the club-style party it creates in your car while slogging through afternoon traffic.
From the time we entered, the massive crowd of the sold-out show turned the mundane task of finding our seat into a real life game of Frogger. Only instead of dodging cars, you're just trying not to get trampled by Wacka Flocka Flame and Mac Miller clones, or splashed by jumbo cups of sloshing beer, or stink-eyed by beautiful women in scandalous outfits who catch you staring a little too long.
One area where Powerhouse crowds always excel is the crowd's ability to shout popular choruses with precision. All you had to do was hear the uproar generated early on during ASAP Rocky's ubiquitous hit “Fuckin' Problem,” despite the lack of cameos that bolster the song. Rocking black skinny jeans and sweatshirt over his diminutive frame, Rocky's cool, collected demeanor was reinforced as voices in the packed arena rapped along to every verse. He was followed by Problem, a guy who certainly has paid some dues as far as the Powerhouse is concerned.
Going from the outdoor afternoon warm-up stage to his prominent slot indoors in the span of two years was a vocal point of pride for the Compton rapper who owned the stage as well as anybody else that night. He sure sounded like an OG, proclaiming his reign over Powerhouse at several points in his mini set, including during his verse on Wiz Khalifa's track “Bout Me.” But even being equipped with all talent that earned him the slot as the show's West Coast rap representative, can someone please file an injunction that ensures his nasally trademark line “Whaaaat?!” will never replace “West Siiiiide” as gangsta rap's regional catchphrase?
Contrary to popular assumptions about rap concerts being perpetually behind schedule, Powerhouse even ran on time like a radio broadcast with dizzying sets from Future, Big Sean and Tyga running like clockwork. Making use of the giant rotating stage set up, Big Sean came out with a bit of extra showmanship backed by crimson stage lighting and a row of hooded, bandana-wearing synth pad drummers thwacking behind him. Even bigger perhaps was the giant billboard-sized “A$$” that flashed across the back of the stage as he performed the club hit “Dance (A$$)” that helped put him on the charts this year. Well, that and “Mercy” which provoked plenty of grinding in the stands which soon morphed into full blown dry humping around us. If people at the New Kids on the Block show in July only knew what when on in some of those same seats.
Chris Brown's effort to capture our attention started with a glowing army of back up dancers dressed like Lord Raiden from Mortal Combat. Did they clash with the singer's unbuttoned Angel's jersey and ball park attire? Maybe. But he still gets points for supporting the home team. And the female-driven roar that welcomed him to the stage carried the energy for the opening 15 minutes. However, a trusty staple of hits like "Shots Fired”, "Say Goodbye” and the Power-pimped single "Fine China” off his forth-coming album X weren't quite enough to offset what amounted to a mild set for a concert that was too club track oriented to be carried by a lady-killing crooner. Of course, the robotic MJ moves and six-pack flashing were enough to keep the ladies distracted.
A brief cameo from Nicki Minaj offered some momentary excitement as she rapped through the verses of "Take it to the Head” and "Beez in the Trap” but even the inclusion of the bootylicious emcee felt like a squandered opportunity to take the set to another level. Having been to a few of these now, it's not as if Powerhouse is suffering from a lack of talent, but perhaps just a lack of vision to make each year feel like we're being momentarily entertained instead of walking away with something triumphant and memorable. Then again, maybe that inspiration has to come from the artists first.
The Crowd: First place winners in a [name your favorite rapper] look-a-like contest and women in every brand and color of booty shorts and spandex imaginable.
Overheard: “She stole me seat? Do I have kill a bitch?!”
Random Notebook Dump: One of the guys next to me offered my friend some vodka hidden in a sunscreen tube. My friend wisely declined.