The ghost of Samuel Beckett oversaw the Hip Hop Loves NY livestream last Thursday night. Time and time again its host, the veteran hip-hop TV presenter Ralph McDaniels — known to all his guests, unnervingly, as ‘Uncle Ralph’ — tried to connect to some Golden Age legend. Time and time again, his attempts at a straightforward interview went wrong.
We saw Uncle Ralph, on one half of the screen, ask a question about COVID-19, nod along to the answer, then say, ‘Thank you, doctor.’ But we didn’t have a doctor on screen, or on our audio. We had Ice-T. ‘I ain’t no doctor,’ Ice-T said. Cut to Nas. But Nas was inaudible, and his picture was breaking up. ‘I see Chuck D!’ He did, but we didn’t. ‘There’s Chuck D!’ No there isn’t. ‘There’s a problem. We’re gonna get back to Chuck and Nas.’ Uncle Ralph got Chuck D back, but he was taking another call by then. And he couldn’t hear Uncle Ralph anyway. Ralph got Nas back and they started talking about decluttering. It was like Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough as Cissy and Ada. All they needed to do was hitch their bosoms.
Uncle Ralph kept trying to talk to Biz Markie but getting a hip-hop DJ called Stretch Armstrong instead. Uncle Ralph kept reassuring us he would get Biz Markie on the line. And still we had Stretch Armstrong, looking more and more disconsolate as he realized Uncle Ralph wasn’t the least bit interested in him. ‘We’re having some difficulty getting some of our phone guests on,’ Uncle Ralph admitted.
Hip Hop Loves NY was meant to be the glorious climax to an evening of trying to recreate a festival from my sofa, hopping from livestream to livestream and seeing what might pop up. It ended up being disconcertingly like an actual festival — too much time spent moving between stages; not enough actual music; terrible sightlines and technical hitches; bits of good music, and bits of awful music.
First up was Sofi Tukker, a US dance music duo who were one of the unexpected pleasures of last week’s Together At Home concert, largely because they looked as though they were having fun. Their livestream, it turned out, wasn’t live: it was a rebroadcast of a live set for the Chicago radio station WKQX, and it was amusing. But I’d direct you instead to the Australian duo Confidence Man, who do the same thing — arch hipster-baiting/celebrating bubblegum electronica — with such complete commitment that it’s impossible not to laugh at them.
Over to the Americana singer Amy LaVere’s Facebook page for her concert. Except there wasn’t one: ‘This is a private video and may only be viewed by people that the video owner selected.’ Well, that’s one way to keep your audience select. And so to earthdaylive2020.org, to catch Local Natives, only to find it was just one member of Local Natives, playing one not-that-great song, before a discussion about the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation, which appeared not to be a 23-member post-rock instrumental group, but an actual delegation of indigenous women discussing divestment.
On YouTube, a man who looked like James Blunt was preparing to sing. It wasn’t James Blunt, though, but someone called the Undercover Hippy, singing about the Iraq war, very much the topic on everyone’s lips right now. Charli XCX’s Instagram livestream was canceled — she had an allergic reaction and couldn’t stop crying — so instead I watched Skullcrusher, a new signing to the always reliable Secretly Canadian label. This was gorgeous, slightly gothic American folk, played by a young woman with no visible inclination to crush anyone’s skull. That effect was achieved instead by the stream freezing for a fraction of a second every couple of beats, like some technological Chinese water torture.
The last show before Hip Hop Loves NY was by Rhett Miller — singer of the excellent alt-country band Old 97s — playing from the Great American Songbook, though he included Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Johnny Cash. It was imperfect but delightful, and occasionally insightful: introducing ‘Over the Rainbow’, he noted how unusual it was to begin a song with the vocal leaping an octave, then played a version that sounded uncannily like late Beatles.
And so to Uncle Ralph. By the time I turned off, he was talking to Daddy O of Stetsasonic, who noted that we had all learned how important it was to wash our hands. Daddy O also wanted to complain about the unreliable nature of information on the internet, and how he’d never have stood for that in his day. Daddy O used to factcheck Stetsasonic’s lyrics: ‘That was a characteristic of classic hip-hop: research.’ Just not, sadly, research into how to talk to people via webcams.