Even if one is a seasoned, engaging performer, hip-hop is still the hardest genre to communicate effectively on the live stage. On sterile television, the effect is diminished tenfold.
Unless one comes out with mix of live drums and a DJ like Cypress Hill, the beat box antics of Doug E. Fresh, the monumental presence of KRS-One or the infectious wildness of the Wu-Tang Clan's Genius, the long evening is likely to be tedious. This was the case most of the time with "Free Expression in the '90s," a three-hour, pay-per-view special sponsored Friday by Rap Sheet, a Los Angeles-based rap publication.
The format of 20-minute sets worked for some of the rappers but failed for most. Among the highlights of the program from Lehman College in New York's Bronx was KRS-One, who performed a generous medley of hits. Doug E. Fresh, a no less important figure from rap's older school, also had the crowd chanting lyrics from some of his patented hip-hop party anthems, but that was about it--except for Cypress Hill's surprise attack on its one-time collaborator Ice Cube.
The rest of the cast had problems connecting with the audience in the cold TV atmosphere. An example was Coolio, the new rap star from South-Central, who delivered an abbreviated version of the enthusiastic show that brought down the house recently at the House of Blues. But this time he could barely move the crowd to applause.
If hip-hop is going to work on TV, the program has to break away from the standard R&B; revue format to offer a more exciting and original sense of occasion.