Me and a friend went all Atlanta-brave last night and snuck our way into the sold-out K’naan and Wale show at The Fillmore, NYC. Those suckas have a separate “smoker’s section” roped off just outside the venue. The area has a separate entrance and everything — easy to infiltrate if you’re skinny and quick on the dash, FYI.

The show was notable because it was the jump-off for K’naan and Wale’s co-headlining US tour and, even though I’m not a huge K’naan fan, my friend wanted to pay tribute because she’s from Toronto, a city where K spent a good part of his life after immigrating from Somalia.

Anyway, the highlight of the show was when K’naan told the story of the first time he ever heard Illmatic, a formative hip-hop experience that I’m sure we can all recount with perfect clarity. The backing band started playing the song “New York State of Mind”, with K’naan rapping the first verse, and when he was done, this happened:

Needless to say, the roof nearly caved in. It was one of the greatest live hip-hop moments I’ve experienced. What made it so great is that The Fillmore is not a huge venue (capacity is probably a little more than The Showbox). Thusly, New York’s Finest (debatable) did not appear as a mere speck on the horizon, but a living, breathing slice of hip-hop history we could almost touch.

The moment served to remind me that live hip-hop is only truly enjoyable in small, intimate venues. I’ve had great experiences with other live music in large venues, but never hip-hop. Like K’naan’s rhymes, the lyrics are often intensely personal. The shorter distance they travel from the source, the greater the impact.

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