Washington, D.C.’s lauded Kennedy Center has played host to an assortment of legendary performances and, over the past weekend, they can add another to their storied history with none other than Nas. Kicking off a three-week-long festival, One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide, Nas performed Illmatic, his debut album, with the complement of a full orchestra and arrangements by bassist Derrick Hodge.

Photo By John Rogers

Photo By John Rogers

Although he’s best know for his Grammy-winning work with the game-changing quartet, the Robert Glasper Experiment, Hodge is also a seasoned and imaginative composer and arranger for albums and films. Not only did the Blue Note recording artist serve as arranger of the show, accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, he also anchored the rhythm section on bass with drummer Daru  Jones (you may remember his Where The Dreams Are mixtape comprised exclusively of Michael Jackson samples.) Hodge and Jones provided focused, urgent beats to underlay Hodge’s subtle, dramatic treatment with the orchestra. As usual, Hodge’s bottom was precise and emotional while Jones’s kicks and snares kept everything gritty and heavy, maintaining the record’s hammerhead essence.

The reimagining of the material dramatized the understated appeal of Illmatic the album, a contemporary translation of modal jazz through a particularly ominous hip-hop filter. Nas’s ability to navigate such vivid, harsh imagery utilizing various flows and flourishes at the turn of each phrase, best exemplified on “One Love,” is thoroughly reminiscent of a John Coltrane or Eric Dolphy feverishly marrying lyric to rhythm in ways that are impossible to duplicate. Hodge was able to help highlight such dexterity with his charts which can best be summed up with his treatment to “The World Is Yours:”

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The One Mic Festival continues through April 14th, including a set by Revive Big Band on Saturday, April 5th. Click here for tickets.


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