CAMBRIDGE -- As he conceded to the audience at the end of his blistering set, Lupe Fiasco may not have won big at the BET Awards Wednesday night, but he did win over the packed crowd at the Middle East Downstairs.
The Chicago-based MC's streetwise style and copious charisma bring to mind such smart, sharp hip-hop stars as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Like them, Fiasco writes lyrics that go beyond sex, drugs, and money, and -- from the audience's reaction -- they seem to resonate.
The crowd sang along to nearly every word on "Daydreamin'," Fiasco's satirical look at the hip-hop industry, and threw their hands in the air for the skate anthem "Kick, Push," both off his album "Food & Liquor. "
While a majority of the rapper's material comes across as meditative on the album, the tunes were given a new energy live. Fiasco's rapid rhymes and command of the stage gave each song a dynamic sense of urgency. As he broke into "American Terrorist," you could feel the outrage. On "He Say She Say," Fiasco infused his clever dual-perspective narrative with genuine emotion.
It may seem unnatural to have placed one of 2006's most - buzzed-about hip-hop artists (and one of GQ's Men of the Year) in the dank Middle East Downstairs basement. But for Fiasco, whose strength lies in authenticity, it felt just right.
Boston MC Prone2 took the stage before Fiasco with a predictable but serviceable set. Closer "All Out" was a standout, but he didn't give the rest of his performance as much commitment. Before Prone2, J-Rize invigorated the crowd, an accompanying guitarist (the only live musician of the evening) adding something special.
Earlier, Soular Prominence proved hip-hop talent could be found in New Hampshire. By contrast, openers Dead Poets, from Allston, seemed as if they were having enough fun playing dress-up, but their rhymes about weed, women, and busting a move were generic at best.