Live hip hop can often be disappointing for many reasons: an underwhelming backing DJ, too many hype people crowding the stage, short sets — all of which can easily derail an otherwise solid show. Thankfully, the show that rappers A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator brought to Champions Square last week was free from these pitfalls and instead featured confident rap show performances.
The night started early, with rising rap star Vince Staples kicking things off with a short, energetic set that primarily drew from his excellent album, Summertime ‘06. Tyler, the Creator joined Staples for one song, eliciting a huge cheer from the crowd of teenagers that worship Tyler’s alternative hip-hop collective Odd Future.
Next, the elder statesmen of the crew, 34-year old Danny Brown took the stage. The Detroit native has made a name for himself through his bitingly hilarious lyrics and embrace of an eclectic sound that jumps from indie rock to EDM. Brown’s lyrical dexterity was on full display, spitting lines with reckless abandon (my personal favorite was his description of himself as “hotter than a hot pocket in the devil’s microwave”). Brown was certsinly the unexpected variable of the evening, and his exceptional set earned him a lot of new fans.
Tyler, the Creator and his Odd Future collective essentially “broke” the Internet back in 2011 when the blogosphere caught wind of their shocking songs. Since, Tyler has been arrested for inciting a riot at Austin arts festival South by Southwest, banned from the United Kingdom, and faced a barrage of accusations of homophobia and misogyny.
Tyler’s set on Thursday was relatively tame in terms of shock value, with the rapper bouncing around the stage and delivering captivating performances of songs off his recent album, Cherry Bomb. An expletive-laden birthday song was downright hilarious, and Tyler’s banter with the crowd was just as entertaining as the songs he was rapping. Now five years into his career, Tyler has managed to find the balance between controlled chaos and true artistry and maintained the attention of the underground rap community.
Dressed in skinny jeans and a tucked-in white tee shirt, A$AP Rocky emerged amidst a giant, three story stage that was used to great effect throughout his set. Rocky’s latest record, AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, was produced by producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse and saw the young rap star move away from the gangsta rap that put him on the map and into more psychedelic territory. His fans took the shift in stride, and Rocky had the crowd in the palm of his hand with girls climbing on shoulders and an ocean of iPhones continuously snapping pictures.
Rocky’s set was energetic and varied, displaying his musical range on everything from club-ready monsters to late-night soul ballads. Throughout the show, Rocky was gracious and grinning, clearly thrilled with the reception to the new songs and having a blast performing them. Although he ended up going over the hard curfew of 10:30 p.m. at Champions Square, Rocky made every minute count and asserted his position as one of the most promising young rappers in the game.
From start to finish, the show had zero dull moments and the energy from the stage and the crowd was infectious. Live hip hop is clearly alive and well, with these four rappers reminding us of the power of a single microphone and turntable to create something truly special.