Live: N.C. Central's homecoming concerts restore the faith in Faith Evans | Music

Live: N.C. Central's homecoming concerts restore the faith in Faith Evans

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Faith Evans - PHOTO COURTESY OF FAITH EVENS
  • Photo courtesy of Faith Evens
  • Faith Evans
Bad Boy Reunion Show
Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham
Friday, Oct. 30, 2015

Outkast, Destiny’s Child, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, The Notorious B.I.G. and a handful of other legends have headlined N.C. Central University’s homecoming festivities in years past. Most of those were in the early ’90s when the school’s homecoming concerts were held annually on “the yard," inside McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.

In recent years, the school has switched gears, choosing to headquarter its weekend-long music programming downtown in the Durham Performing Arts Center facility as the Eagles gymnasium awaits its much-needed $750,000 in renovations. And who’s complaining? If anything, a historically black university’s homecoming presence amid downtown Durham’s festering culture issues can only encourage black inclusion.

At least two of the past three years of N.C. Central’s homecoming concerts in DPAC have given downtown exactly that. In 2013, Rakim, Nice & Smooth, Bell Biv Devoe and several other throwback acts rocked DPAC’s two-night Return of the Legends concert. Last year saw the return of NCCU’s homecoming festivities (featuring Big K.R.I.T. and Y.G.) to McDougald-McLendon, but this year’s live music again resided in DPAC for three days. It kicked off on Friday night with the Puff Daddy-less Bad Boy Reunion Show, featuring some the R&B and hip-hop label’s platinum acts—Total, Black Rob, Carl Thomas Ma$e and Faith Evans.

If you remember that fateful night back in June at the BET Awards when Puffy fell through the floor during the Bad Boy Reunion performance, you might also recall him taking to Twitter the next night to announce a Bad Boy Reunion Tour. Friday night’s showcase may not have been packed with quite the fanfare and flamboyance that an all-out Puffy-production could have delivered, but it peaked when needed, even if Lil’ Kim, The Lox and 112 were also absent.

Black Rob should have stayed home, too. I hadn’t made it to my seat in time for Total’s opening set, so unfortunately, Black Rob was my introduction to the evening. The audience must have seen the performance’s awkwardness coming; as soon as the Harlem-bred emcee hit the stage, he met boos, chatter and everything short of the Apollo Theater’s Sandman showing up on stage to shoo him off with a broom. Not even “Whoa!” could save him. The shit-eating grin on his mug only made him look worse. The music was inaudible. After two songs, he was gone.

The stage was set up for a band, but it wasn’t for Carl Thomas. Instead, the Emotional singer was backed by his charisma alone as he cha-cha’d on stage to the tune of “Summer Rain,” with the audience screaming for the night’s only male R&B star. Thomas sings about as good as he’s always has. A backing band may have complemented him, or it may have gotten in the way of his smooth act. We used to make fun of Thomas for being Super-Soul Emo, but a trait like that never really goes out of style, which is why Thomas will still be performing “I Wish” into his later days.

Murda Ma$e didn’t get the band treatment either. That’s too bad. A live guitar section for Bad Boy’s jiggy-era anthem “Feel So Good” would have sounded perfect. Ma$e’s Harlem World, king-of-charisma schtick poked out with more nostalgia than anyone on the night’s roster. He’s the original rapper meme, whose silly no-fucks-given dances from the “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” “Mo Money Mo Problems” and “Been Around the World" videos gave rappers like Drake the confidence for “Hotline Bling." The dances, dimpled smile, Coogi hoodie and uptown-blue leather jacket made Ma$e look larger than life. The party was in the audience, bundled up in Ma$e’s aura.

Ma$e’s recording legacy may have died in 2005 on Fat Joe’s “Lean Back” remix, when he rapped the lazy cornball line “You a hot 16, I’m a very great song.” That’s exactly where his medley ended on Friday night. It’s troubling to think of either him or the night’s closer Faith Evans as afterthoughts on a “reunion” tour, when there’s still room for both of them in today’s music industry. He displayed timeless swag while she displayed a timeless voice during her R&B ballads “You Used To Love Me,” "Soon As I Get Home” and “Come Over.”

For the ubiquitous party anthem “Love Like This,” the former R&B Divas reality show cast member swung her dress around like an urban ballroom dancer at near-twerk energy, singing over her band’s enthused playing. On Sunday night, Faith’s contemporary, Mary J. Blige, would be on that same stage, but I doubted that the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul” would come anywhere close to Faith’s perfect-pitched gospel in downtown Durham.  


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