Hip-hop stars radiate mastery

Ja Rule, Ashanti, Wonder brighten KISS Concert

By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff, 6/2/2003

ANSFIELD -- Any lingering doubts about hip-hop's place in mainstream pop were put to rest at the Tweeter Center on Saturday, where KISS Concert 2003 headliners Ja Rule and Ashanti led fans at one of the world's largest Top-40 radio concerts through one massive rapalong after another.

''Hip-hop is pop music,'' said Ja Rule in his dressing room just before taking the stage. ''We're the flava of the world.'' The gravel-throated rapper and honey-toned Ashanti, king and queen of the superstar duet, closed down Saturday's nearly 11-hour marathon with exuberant takes on the thug-diva divide.

The 24th annual KISS Concert, which raised $50,000 for the Genesis Fund and was organized by KISS-108 FM, marked the final live performance for TLC, whose member Lisa ''Left Eye'' Lopes died last year in a car accident. The group paid tribute with large-screen video footage that eerily inserted Lopes's parts on a handful of songs, including the smash hits ''Unpretty,'' ''No Scrubs,'' and ''Waterfalls.''

Another urban-pop crossover sensation, Jamaican-born Wayne Wonder, deftly blended dancehall and hip-hop into a slippery-sweet concoction -- a lady-killing recipe that's produced his recent commercial breakthrough, ''No Letting Go.''

Rain came and went, occasionally pummeling the sea of plastic-ponchoed fans on the lawn and prompting 20-year-old Michelle Branch -- who previewed sturdy pop tunes from her forthcoming sophmore disc during a prominent evening slot -- to marvel at what a difference a year makes.

''At last year's KISS concert, Avril Lavigne and I were stopped all night by security guards asking to see our backstage passes,'' Branch recalled backstage after performing for a cheering crowd. ''Now people are sitting in the rain to watch me play.''

Folkie poet-turned-video vixen Jewel has traded in her cowgirl boots and jeans for strappy sandals and zip-up pants, and earnest singer-songwriter fare for a vampy new single called ''Intuition'' from her fifth album, ''0304,'' out tomorrow. ''I wanted to make a record that made you feel young, smart, and sexy,'' Jewel said before her set. Indeed, her peformance was the surprise of the day -- filled with vibrant gypsy rhythms, heavy grooves, and the loosest, liveliest singing we've heard from Jewel.

Tattoos and frantic hairdos notwithstanding, crowd favorites Simple Plan and Texas goofballs Bowling for Soup spewed candied speedballs that testified to nothing more radical than the total mainstreaming of punk. Dream demonstrated how over the days of synchronized, single-gender dance-pop are. And Stacy Orrico, 17, delivered all the high-drama vocal gymnastics and eye-rolling predictability of an ''American Idol'' contestant.

A pregnant-looking Lisa Marie Presley won hands down for most joyless performance of the day. Singing seemed a chore, speaking an aggravation. By contrast, newcomer Amanda Perez infused her slow R&B jams with natural, unaffected charisma.

Third Eye Blind rocked hard, offering a bracing diversion amid Jason Mraz's jazzy pop-hop, Jennifer Love Hewitt's connect-the-dots rockers, and the smooth, sentimental stylings of Celtics star Walter McCarty. Hardly any diversion at all was a five-minute appearance by ''guest host'' Britney Spears, who bantered with KISS DJ Matt Siegel and helped present a check to the Genesis Fund.

KISS Concert 2003
with Ja Rule, Ashanti, TLC, Jewel, Michelle Branch, Wayne Wonder, and others
At: the Tweeter Center, Saturday

Joan Anderman can be reached at

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 6/2/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.