Will FK Tokunaga
Following a year full of traumatic experiences for Black Americans and Black people worldwide, National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk concerts celebrated Black History Month by exclusively featuring Black artists in February. On the 16th, Tiny Desk released a performance by entrepreneur and rapper Rick Ross, in just his second career appearance with a live band. Accompanying Ross was Thaddius Tribbett on bass, Monty Reynolds on keys, Rashid Williams on drums, backup singers Elijah Blake and Troy Tyler, and DJ Sam Sneak.
The energy in the room was palpable from the very first song of the night, “Super High,” from the album Teflon Don. Everyone from Ross at center stage to those taking less prominent roles was engaged, interacting with each other while grooving to the beat. In the song’s interlude, Ross further set the stage by telling the viewing audience that “we gonna shine together, since we gonna grind together.”
Despite the absence of the iconic tiny desk that usually serves as the stage for this series, having artists perform and record remotely has provided an opportunity for them to create settings that match the mood of their show. Ross, who has performed for audiences of thousands, did a splendid job of providing what the pandemic has taken away: the atmosphere of a live concert.
Contrasting the performer’s black attire was the small white room in which they performed. The dim lighting, along with the eye-level perspective of the video might make the viewer nostalgic for the last time they were able to see a show from the front row.
Aside from the artists’ gear, the room was relatively sparse, save for a large golden throne on which Ross periodically sat watching over his kingdom while allowing the others to take the spotlight.
Ross not only celebrated the successes of himself, his peers and his community, but also made sure to show his appreciation for all those who had helped him get there. “I could look at any brother on the street and get some inspiration from him. Regardless of how many followers you got on social media, regardless of what you’re riding in, I can learn something from you. I ain’t scared to. Let’s make sure we keep building.”
For all of the great production values, not all of the challenges of performing virtually were met. There were times in “Larry Hoover” when the gentle and soft spoken voices of the background singers were lost in the mix between the drums and synths. And given that there had been time to edit and create this video to be released on YouTube, the omission of subtitles felt like a missed opportunity.
Noticeably sweating by the end of the second piece, Ross took a seat in the gold throne, letting the pink-haired background singer take the lead on “Aston Martin Music.” Here the team at Tiny Desk was best able to show off their editing prowess. As the singer took off on a sweet yet soaring melody, the camera cut in to a close up shot, as if they were singing directly to the viewer — one of the most intimate, memorable and touching moments of the show.Finishing off the night, “Tears of Joy” painted a picture of deep sadness and pain, but also of growth, tenderness and vulnerability. As the singer ruminated that they “could have been on a T-shirt saying ‘RIP’,” the camera faded to the credits.