As MC Shan pointed out on "They Used to Do It Out in the Park," hip-hop is, at its core, a live art form. There was a time when the greatest compliment you could pay a rapper was to say he was "live." Crews would battle it out for respect and sometimes to keep from getting stuck up at the end of the show. Rappers didn't have street singles and club bangers and lead singles—they had "routines." That's what Phife is talking about on "Check the Rhime" when he says, "back in the days on the boulevard of Linden/We used to kick routines and our presence was fittin'."
A routine was not just a tune but a way of putting that tune across, complete with costumes, choreography, and crowd participation. Remember that line about "Wave your hands in the air, and wave 'em like you just don't care"? That shit used to mean something. Now people can't wave their hands in the air because they're too busy Instagramming and Twitpic'in and Snapchatting and branding themselves as a 21st century "party person in the place to be" instead of paying attention to the artist on the stage. The real question: Is that their fault? Or the fault of technology? Or are today's MCs just not living up to Rakim's definition of the term: "'Cause to me, MC means move the crowd."