Last night was the last stop of their seven-show We Stole Hip Hop tour, but neither Antwon nor Wiki seemed put out or exhausted. In fact, overall, the show was a series of small miracles.
For instance, the joy of standing in the back of S.O.B.’s: watching dozens of distracted people try to walk through the thigh-high iron barricade that loosely separates the “viewing area” from the “bar area.” If they’re drunk they may try a couple of times, getting progressively more frustrated as they realize physics isn’t making an exception. It’s a great time.
The whole function was more “closing night of a Broadway show” than “last night of a rap tour.” Theater was everywhere: A girl who was crying or having some sort of trauma outside in the smoking area between acts was later seen stage-diving, as was some wingnut dressed like a Ghostbuster, overcome with emotion. One could imagine it having been planned in advance to elicit an emotional response, like a homespun Sleep No More.
Antwon ended several of his songs a cappella, and when the beat dropped out, his Jordan jersey looked more Youth of Today than anything worn by the actual youth of today. Dude’s got bars; dude also starts to sound a little less like himself and more like Biggie after a couple of songs, and can convince an audience dumb enough to repeatedly walk into a steel bar to join him in a singalong of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” At one point, he covered “Return of the Mack,” but it seemed like it had been slowed down a few BPMs, making it wobble — very upsetting, very uncanny valley.
“Dying in the Pussy” turned the area in front of the stage into a literal moshpit. Antwon’s vocals are a little like a hardcore singer’s, and he holds the mic like a Cro-Mag, so close to his mouth, privileging volume and intensity over clarity. He did the second half of his set from the floor after crowdsurfing to the middle of the room. The venue started to feel more like a VFW or somebody’s basement.
Kids went hard, and when the song was over, he thanked them for their service — “I’ma put my whole ass out, I love you. Who’s gonna eat my ass tonight? It’s lit” — before ending his set by closing his eyes and swaying to an extended mix of Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone,” played at blast volume.
Wiki took the stage next. He’s somehow gotten meaner, or at least more serious, in the past year, and in terms of stage presence, he’s bulked up and diversified. There’s less running back and forth happening, more pivoting obsessively or jumping up and down in place. This could be the effect of performing solo, developing an identity separate and distinct from his position as frontperson of cult Harlem rap group Ratking.
His delivery of songs off solo mixtape Lil Me was astounding live. “Seedy Motherfucker,” linguistic crossfit that relies on dizzying internal rhyme, bounced along so easily we almost forgot how goddamn difficult that song must be to sing. “Hit the L” is great because it requires his cohort to stand aside and sing “Smokin’-smokin’-dope” four hundred times in a row, which feels party-time-excellent the first 270 times, and then, as mantras are wont to do, on incantation #271 your brain cracks and you see God. What a great job to have, singing that line over and over again.
The album version of “God Bless Me” was performed with the whole cast and crew (including the always lovely Sporting Life). It was an ensemble production, complete with a sort of modernist take on Cossack dancing with everyone jumping up and down in unison. Antwon joined everyone on stage for one final song, which he ended by whipping his mic into the audience and hitting something — presumably a human — hard enough to make an audible pop.
Turned off by that gesture, and aware the show was over, a substantial portion of the audience turned around to leave — and I’m pleased to report that many of them walked directly into the steel barrier on their way out.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 29, 2016