Hill’s shows can be frustrating for various reasons (tardiness, the reworking of favorites), but being locked away by the taxman is a frame that proved to strengthen the meaning of her songs. Only a certain type of political radical is likely to agree with Hill’s ideological resistance to the IRS, but it wasn’t hard on Wednesday night to see how the undeniable power of a black woman defiantly spitting protest raps has an even broader appeal in a country where both the income gap and government disillusionment is widening. Hill said it best 15 years ago anyway: it’s funny how money change a situation.
There was plenty of fire during her set, but there was also a playful spontaneity that exuded the happy energy you might expect of someone playing her first post-incarceration concert. Early in the set Hill goaded Fugees producer Jerry Wonda out of the crowd to pluck the bass while she rapped fragmented lines. She also acted as conductor, instructing certain members of her eight-piece band to abruptly stop playing so her vocals rang louder, but she also frequently pushed them into improvisational jamming. During the encore, she brought out her teenage son Joshua, who bashfully rapped multiple verses off his phone while the band played a rendition of “Fuckin’ Problems.” Hill alternately egged him on and made sure the mic was close enough to his mouth so he could be heard over the crowd’s cheers.
It wasn’t until the encore that Hill stopped to speak at any length, and it was after she performed her most recent song, “Consumerism,” over the beat for Busta Rhymes’ “Don’t Touch Me (Throw Da Water On ‘Em).” “Consumerism” is almost impossibly knotty in both meaning and structure, and as Hill rapped the song her mouth was unable to keep up with the words firing out of her brain. She recognized this, and noted after the track’s conclusion that her new material (including “Neurotic Society [Compulsory Mix]”) was so wordy because it is the product of bottled-up emotion. She mimed the seething rattle of a machine gun, intimating that her voice is a weapon that not even she can completely control.
Then she recited some of the lyrics to “Consumerism” slowly and with no beat, as if she was doing spoken word. Modernism has created modern prisons/ Neo-McCarthyisms, new colonialisms… Impositions, superstitions, violence and contradictions/ False pretense and no convictions. This is dense and theoretical stuff, but one only needs to know names like Edward Snowden or Renisha McBride to argue that “Neo-McCarthyisms” and false pretenses and no convictions are more pertinent topics of discussion than Macklemore’s self-gratifying stances or Lorde’s distaste for gold teeth and champagne. But then again, Ms. Hill had to pause and spell it out for even her most fervent fans.