Twista at the Congress Theater

By Mark Guarino

Compared to his fellow Chicagoans in the hip-hop/R&B world, Twista may not have the producing skills of Kanye West, the social consciousness of Common or the savvy pop ear of R. Kelly. But he does have speed and a childlike playfulness that revels in showing it off.

The 30-year-old rapper headlined the Congress Theater Thursday and played an hour set that schooled his fans in the art of rapid-fire delivery. He also took the opportunity of playing before a hometown crowd to bask. “Kamikaze” (Atlantic), his recent album, just went platinum (selling 1 million copies). After debuting as number one, it has sat near the top of the Billboard charts for over three months.

At the end of the night, his platinum plaque was hauled out for display in the same spirit of the Bulls celebrations in the ‘90s when crowds in Grant Park got to see the championship trophies up close.

Chicago is enjoying its moment in the sun as a hip-hop breeding ground with commercial breakthroughs by artists like Twista, West, Common and Da Brat. Of the group, Twista is the rapper who has fully embraced his roots. His video for the single “Overnight Celebrity” was shot on Michigan Ave. and features a prominent view of the skyline.

In the city that works, Twista is a product of perseverance. He made his debut 13 years ago as Tung Twista. Although his style earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s fastest rapper, his career never caught fire. That was before “Kamikaze” that was partly produced by West and features a string of catchy, radio-friendly singles soaked in old school soul. The success has also opened the door to collaborating with Sting, who invited him to perform in his new video.

With backing tracks behind him and an onstage entourage lending support, Twista visited songs from the new album, pausing to listen to recorded cameos from stars like Ludacris and R. Kelly before adding his own vocals live. The standout was “Slow Jamz,” one of the year’s great songs, with its chirping soul samples, jokes and singalong chorus.

Twista made sure to show his speedy flow wasn’t just novelty. A portion of the show was spent showing that even though they blur in the rush, words count. At one point he gave an instructional on how he does what he does. Becoming a human turntable with alternating speeds, he slowed the rhymes down before picking them up and vice versa. Although the show was thrown like one big party, it showed the ingenuity of his wordplay and rapt timing.

Some local artists opened the show including Rockford’s White Boy and Da Brat. Dressed in an ‘80s White Sox outfit, the female rapper didn’t neglect the fact she was in her hometown. After rapping atop samples from Isaac Hayes and Burt Bacharach, she brought out to salute what has to be the unlikeliest member of any rapper’s entourage: her grandmother.

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