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Ladies of Hip-Hop, Receiving Their Due

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Ladies of Hip-Hop, Receiving Their Due


Published: March 27, 2004

UNIONDALE, N.Y., March 25 — Respect, independence, fidelity and great sex — that's what the women on the Ladies First Tour want, and they'll bump and grind to get it. The tour features Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Missy Elliott, with a brief opening set from Tamia, and they filled Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night with fans who cheered every affirmation of a woman's worth.

The three headliners have made their way in a hip-hop culture that largely treats women as playthings and conquests. Their response has been to play along while making modest demands of their own. In the meantime, they're willing to work like superwomen.

Beyoncé has made herself the sweetheart of hip-hop: a creature of willing desire as long as she's not taken for granted. Her set included the seal of hip-hop success: a guest appearance by Jay-Z, in their hit, "Crazy in Love." With Destiny's Child, which is to release a new album in October, Beyoncé proclaimed herself an independent woman and a survivor, while in the songs on her Grammy-winning solo album, "Dangerously in Love" (Columbia), she's happily overwhelmed by love and lust.

Beyoncé doesn't mind being a sex object. She made her entrance on Thursday night carried through the audience wearing a gold lamé bikini top and miniskirt. Video screens sometimes shared the stage; during one costume change, they showed a montage of Beyoncé on magazine covers.

Like a rapper, Beyoncé shops for the snappiest, most startling rhythm tracks, and she has found them for songs like the dancehall-Punjabi hybrid "Baby Boy." Unlike a rapper, she can sing, with a creamy voice that moves to gospelly peaks.

Onstage, she was equally busy dancing and singing, so she sang only a verse or two of most songs. But she did sing all the way through "Me, Myself and I" and Destiny's Child's "Say My Name," building crescendos of righteousness as she dealt with cheating boyfriends, and through the sultry buildups of "Be With You" and "Speechless." Like her album, the set had some shapeless songs, but with her stronger material Beyoncé was an irresistible combination: the woman who has it all and promises to share it.

Ms. Keys presented just enough MTV-era pageantry to get away with what she clearly wants to do: reclaim the funk and melody of old soul. She left her keyboard to join her dancers, and she cheerfully acted out her songs, which juggle selfless love and self-affirmation. Yet instead of changing outfits, she just changed hats, and hers was a musician's and singer's set.

Ms. Keys reveled in her voice, which could be sassy or tearful, thoughtful or gutsy. As bandleader, she cued funk or classical-piano interludes; at one point she picked up a baton to conduct. When she draped herself across her piano like a cabaret siren, she went on to rearrange herself so she could play the keyboard. Although she dipped into oldies when she could have performed her own songs, her set was a tour de force for a songwriter who won't give in to hip-hop's chopped-up aesthetic.

Missy Elliott's half-hour set was a giddy montage: snippets of songs and booming beats to back razzle-dazzle dance routines. Ms. Elliott is one of hip-hop's savviest and funniest figures, rapping about pleasure and picking sly, stark beats. Onstage, she was more like a ringmaster and party coach, wearing shiny suits and strutting between center stage and sidelines while her dancers went through routines as cheerleaders, disco dolls, strippers, jockeys and zoot-suiters; Ms. Elliott appeared at one point in head-to-toe logos for her coming line of athletic shoes. The clever raciness of her songs was submerged in chants, self-promotion and spectacle — another way for a smart woman to get by in the hip-hop era.



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