Ruff Ryders and Cash Money Millionaires, two of the biggest contenders in the rap world today, joined forces recently for one of the spring's top-selling concert tours. Following right behind the ever-popular Britney Spears in ticket sales, the Ruff Ryders/Cash Money tour, like Puff Daddy and the Family and Hard Knock Life shows before it, made even more noise that hip-hop culture can't be denied.
Lighting designer Robert Roth has been at ground zero of the hip-hop scene, designing since the beginning for old guard acts, including NWA, Salt N' Pepa, and Grandmaster Flash, his first rap show in the late 70s. Over 20 years later, Roth is still lighting leading acts, including last year's popular Hard Knock Life tour, which featured Jay-Z, Method Man, Redman, and DMX. Ruff Ryders/Cash Money followed in step, bringing in its own lineup of top names, including Ruff Ryders' DMX, Eve, Drag-On and Lox, and Cash Money's Juvenile, B.G., and Lil Wayne, and similarly attempted to deliver in-your-face production values.
Just a few of the show's bag of tricks, with scenic elements by Hard Knock Life production designer John Troxtel and flying executed by Branam Enterprises, include Cash Money's flying entrance in a helicopter, Eve descending to the stage in a mirror ball, and DMX arriving in an airborne cage. Then there is the huge inflatable condom, the so-to-speak climax of Cash Money's booty contest, and syncopated pyro blasts by Pyrotek.
"The scenic and the gags drove one side of the lighting," says Roth. "The schedule also drove the lighting. It was very intense because the tour start changed and it was a lot of work to get everybody ready to go." (Everybody included all of the acts, plus a massive entourage that filled 26 buses compared to five for production.) "So we took the basic building blocks that we had used on Hard Knock," the designer continues, "and [programmer] Chris Varrin very adroitly transferred them using the Icon(R) edit software offline into what we had laid out for this show."
The lighting system, supplied by Light & Sound Design's (LSD) Atlanta office, included: 24 LSD Icons, 32 Icon WashLights(TM), 40 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), a half-dozen Molefays with color changers, and two truss spots to highlight the principals. "It's got to be big and bold so you paint with a very big paintbrush," explains Roth. "We are not lighting something that is subtle here."
Then there is rap's reputation for the unexpected, an element lighting director Alex Reardon and his crew became well-acquainted with on the road.
With limited rehearsal time and the general improvisational nature of rap shows, Roth credits Reardon, who controlled the show with an Icon Console(TM), for going with the flow. "There are moments in the show that are cue-to-cue and the rest of it is all feel and response, which is where Alex did a great job," says Roth. "It's a vibe or a feel kind of thing and it doesn't necessarily stay the same."
After a few weeks on the road, Reardon and crew, which included crew chief Mike Walko, Icon tech Chad Smith, "truss monkey" Matt Nesky, and lighting techs Randy Garrett and John "J.R." Ramsey, were prepared for anything lighting-related and otherwise, including a stabbing incident between members of two local groups at Boston's Fleet Center.
Several subsequent shows were cancelled, but the tour resumed with heavily stepped-up security and finished at the end of April. "Everyone says rap shows can be really unpleasant experiences," says Reardon. "But we have had a really good crew vibe between all departments which has gotten us through. Where it could have been unpleasant, most people looked at the big picture and made it happen."