This show will go down in history as one of the best rap concerts ever. It stands as a reminder to all, that rap is not dead, rather achieving new heights. It also serves as an example to aspiring artists and fans, of what works in a live setting, and what does not. I will get to that in a moment.
Childish Gambino and Danny Brown both ended up on many people's "Best of 2011" lists. Brown was the opener, hot off his XXX mixtape, or as Spin called it, Best Rap Album of the Year for 2011. Childish Gambino, at this point, is almost a veteran. With over 5 mixtapes under his belt and 2 proper LP's, Culdesac, and Camp, he has solidified himself as the new top dog in hop hop. So, you see; the excitement at The Riv was palpable. You could feel the energy in the air.
Danny Brown took to the stage in a black leather jacket and shades, not exactly what I am used to seeing him in. Not that I hang out with him dawg, but in mags, his look is more dressed down. I smiled thinking, "he's definitely starting to feel the rockstar effect." I quickly reminded myself that the content of his verses were the reason I was there. So, let's get back to the show.
Choosing "Radio Song" as his opener was baffling to me, because of it's slow pace. Herein lies the first lesson. When playing Chicago, and opening for the hottest rap act in the game, start with something intense and upbeat. Getting the impatient crowd on your side early is the goal. Keep them entertained while waiting for the headliner. This is not rocket science, and Brown knows better, so you can see why I was confused with these initial choices. He should have went with something more gritty and fast, maybe "Die Like a Rockstar, " or "Pac Blood."
Apparently "Lie4" didn't bode well either, and the crowd grew impatient. Eventually, a beer can was thrown at his head, and in retaliation Brown flipped the audience the bird. Man...this could have gone so much better! As we watched, I told my friend that Brown would have been better received if he performed with a band like Gambino does, rather than a DJ. That's the second lesson taken from all of this: using a band over DJ! His lyrics need to be heard. This is what separates Brown from the rest of the imposters trying to rhyme out there. He needs a band who can play to his strengths, and allow for those little intricacies and details. The mood of his songs can be eery at times, and some instrumentation would suit this nicely. The lyrics are disturbing, yes, but this draws you in closer and makes you want to hear more. On this night, neither was possible, and the endearing parts of Brown were lost in a sea of bass.
Check "DNA," to understand my point better. This would be a perfect example of a song that needs nuances. With a killer horn section, the drums take a backseat, and the lyrics display the desperation in Brown's life.
Tonight it was hard to decipher his words, especially if you didn't know the lyrics. I'm not ranting to be a dick, I'm saying this because I love this artist and want others to as well. Brown closed the set with "Monopoly," and brought the house down; finally. The crowd seemed to know every lyric, and this song cut through like a knife. It's one of the best songs off of XXX and he killed it! The kid next to me went insane, jumping up and down, and trading lyrics with me. We rapped the whole song together; it was a GREAT moment. This is the spunk I'm talking about! Where was this zeal in the rest of the set?
Now on to Childish Gambino, aka, Donald Glover. This man is energizing. His performance is truly top notch, and the crowd couldn't get enough. He brings a full band and it sounds amazing. Dude exudes confidence. You could hear every lyric, as they were delivered with razor sharp precision. This is the explained definition of "reaching the audience." All of those feel good anthems worked as well live, as they did on album. While the lyrics flashed on a jumbo screen in the background, the crowd sang along to every song. Again, I have not seen a rap show this good in awhile.
Gambino told his life story through opener "Outside," and brought us higher with "Fire Fly," one of my favorite moments from the show. It's a feel good track, that begs for radio play. Let's call it a summer smash, in the vein of Will Smith or Kanye West.
Camp is basically his only official release, and Donald Glover blasted through the majority of it. The show he put on was epic! He's short, but ripped, and bounces around the stage like a jackhammer. High-fiving the audience, and offering up choruses, to a crowd who were at full attention.
"Heartbeat" was the topper! As the chorus begins the song, the crowd chants the hook:
I wanted you to know/That I am ready to go, heartbeat...my heartbeat
I wanted you to know/Whenever you are around, can't speak/I can't speak
A wave of people begin jumping wildly, and it's on. We repeat every crazy lyric, about his on and off relationship, like each of us were the man with the mic. There is a closeness to Gambino that his fans feel, because of songs like this. These things have happened to us, and we can relate. Honesty goes a long way for him during the night as he plays through crowd favorites "Freak and Geeks," "Rolling in the Deep," and "Sunrise."
I won't blather on any longer about this show. You just don't see rap shows this good anymore. I think most rap artists should have a band to bring audiences deeper into their music, when they play live. A DJ is cool to dance to, but it's so hard to be versatile. That is the message of this show.
Filed under: Concert Reviews