Great Live Rap Performances


Rappers who give great live performances are rarer than they should be. On the one hand, rapping is exhausting in a way most vocalists don’t have to deal with, on the other most shows I’ve been to have 2 to 4 hype-men and a vocal track to boot, which is not exactly exciting or reeks of effort. It makes the really great live performances that much more special.

I started down this hole via One Song Only leading me to revisit Kanye West’s two SNL performances for “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”, and also ended up returning to some other favorite live performances.

Dre Dog (as he was known then, Andre Nickatina now) is absolutely killer here, and the lo-fi beat combined with the public access production values (and that dancer!) makes this video one of my aesthetic happy places. As far as I can tell this video (which has been put up and taken down from YouTube multiple times) is the only place this song exists.

This video has immense value as a really weird time capsule (that one time a 17 year old LL Cool J went to a high school auditorium in Maine and very patiently broke down what hip-hop was for a crowd of maybe 4 dozen people who had never seen live rap before) but also a very good example of how good he was at rapping. He is BELLOWING and never gets out of breath. It was a different time when that kind of thing was much more valued but it’s still very impressive.

What are some of your favorite live rap performances/performers?


I can think of a lot of Kendrick performances that would fit this criteria, but I remember just hanging out with my parents watching the tonight show, and Untitled 8 came on. It really shook me. The amount of energy he’s able to put out there with a pretty barebones performance has always been impressive to me. It’s still one of my favorite Kendrick songs!

Looking forward to seeing what other people add on :smile:


Yeah, Kendrick is a really incredible performer. Not just technically, in terms of breath control and flow, but he has such a different emotional presence than basically anyone else. His performance at the Grammys features that same kind of pained intensity. Too bad U2 was there as well, but what you gonna do.

On a completely different emotional wavelength, there is Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh.


Anderson .Paak is one of my favorite artists at the moment and he can put on a damn show. This one from Kimmel not too long ago is a good example, bummer that the crowds they get for these sorts of talk-show performances aren’t as hyped as you want them to be. Rapping live loud and clear over an instrumental while bouncing around is something so difficult it’s hard to even fathom how artists manage to do it (many don’t even try I guess) on a regular basis.

Also I posted this on a different thread not that long ago but I can’t get over how incredible every second of this other performance is. My dude is drumming, rapping, and singing flawlessly and him and the band are so tight together here. Paak is really just a hip-hop/R&B/Funk Renaissance man and it’s unbelievable.


Kendrick has had a lot of amazing live performances (e.g. the amazing 2016 Grammys performance - which, I shall never forget nor forgive, was NOT given album of the year ), but the standout to me is still his Untitled 03 performance from The Colbert Report a while back - here’s the official clip, the performance starts at ~4:30

I will also never not be in awe of Busdriver, though I’m not sure about live performances per se; instead, here are some studio that get the point across:


Yes! I’m not a huge Busdriver fan but his performances have such an amazing energy. You reminded me of this Flashbang Grenada (the collaboration Busdriver did with Nocando) performance I love where he also sings and acts as his own DJ.


Good thread. That Kendrick Untitled 8 is so so good. I wish the tape had that same energy. - It’s a crime that there’s probably a full recording of this somewhere just laying around. - The middle section of this performance is great. The Grenfell lines is so pointed and succinct in a way that exemplifies the power of political music, which is unfortunately so rare in the current mainstream.


In 2014 I went to an R.A. the Rugged Man concert at a local club which isn’t known for it’s rap bookings, that hadn’t done the least bit of promotion for the concert, on a cold as fuck wednesday evening in November. There were so few people in the venue that I decided to try and do a headcount. there were 74 people. The turnout was so small that the venue upped the price on beer by 10 DKK to make it more profitable for them and they cut R.A.'s concert time by half an hour because they didn’t want to pay their staff for the entire concert with how few people were there. This had all the makings of an abject fucking disaster, one of those concerts that just falls flat and dies on it’s ass before it even gets started. I was skeptical to say the least.

And then, out walks Rugged Man, in an ugly coat, with an hat, wearing an ugly shirt and ugly jewelry to go along with some pretty ugly facial hair. He looked like the biggest fucking dirtbag I have ever laid eyes on. first thing he says? “How you doin’ Århus (my town), seems like we didn’t to good of a job on the promotion, huh?” And with that line R.A. The Rugged started what would turn into a 90 minute battle to make a 74 person turnout one of the most unforgettable rap shows I have ever seen. Forget the skill level, that goes without saying. R.A. is a lyrical gymnast and performed as expected, but the amount of energy he put into the performance, stopping the song and starting over again and again and again until the crowd reacted the way he wanted to… I have never heard such a small crowd make that much noise. It was fucking frenzied.

In the end, he ended up going 30 minutes over his alotted hour, because he felt like the crowd deserved it and it wasn’t their fault that the venue screwed up and when he finally left the stage for the last time was like you’d just been conned by a trick thief. like, wait, did that guy just make me do that for 90 minutes for no reason.

I have been fortunate to watch a lot of great Rap concerts. I saw Kendrick crying, overcome with emotion in front of 40000 people at Roskilde, I’ve been in the middle of the maelström of an RTJ concert. I’ve yelled “Viva La Revolucion” with 300 people along with Immortal Technique. None of them, absolutely none of them, come close to R.A. the Rugged Man and the dedication and sacrifice he put up for those 75 people in that shitty venue. It is still without question the best live rap performance I have ever seen, full stop.


I seen Kendrick live in Manchester in February and whilst it was amazing, I have to say seeing Schoolboy Q in a significantly smaller venue is hands down the best live show i’ve been to, it was just full of energy.


Out of all of the Kendrick Lamar performances I’ve seen televised, I’d say his performance on The Colbert Report is the best thing I’ve ever seen him do, period.

As far as live performers are concerned, no one has really impressed me as much as Aesop Rock or Jonwayne. Aesop Rock had insane breath control when I saw him live, and he weaved through all of his words in a way that made me feel he really cared more about hitting his own bars than impressing anyone else on stage. The fact that dude is still rapping decade old songs with the same energy he’d use if he were pushing singles for a new record is amazing. And Jonwayne was just beyond hype – super animated, very into his own style, and really carefree, regardless of how the audience is taking him. Seeing both rappers live really made me appreciate their music more. Most Hip-Hop doesn’t translate well on stage, but those guys killed it.