First up on the bill was H.E.R, the enigmatic R&B songstress who’s debut EP, H.E.R. Vol. 1 surfaced seemingly out of nowhere and quickly caught the attention of seasoned music veterans Alicia Keys and Wyclef Jean and the music world at large, despite concealing her identity. During her 30-minute set, the singer was shrouded by thick smoke clouds and hid behind her curly, golden mane and black sunglasses. With her back turned to the audience, she began “Say It Again” off her newly released EP H.E.R. Vol 2.
As a sparse, airy melody crept in, H.E.R. walked over to a piano and began to play “Losing” with the crowd providing the background vocals. “New York City, I’m a little bit nervous, I’m a little bit excited but I’m so happy and blessed to be here tonight,” she said and despite her nerves, H.E.R belted out each song with fervor and confidence. She transitioned to “Wait For It,” which sampled Floetry’s “Say Yes,” and reserved a few minutes to pay tribute to the early-aughts hit. The singer’s honeyed vocals lifted into a falsetto, showing off her vocal versatility as she later segued into Jill Scott’s “A Long Walk.”
“I’ve been doing this show every day for like the past month but honestly tonight, because I’m at Radio City, it feels like the very first night,” H.E.R. told the crowd. “So, thank you for sharing this moment with me.” Under a violet spotlight, H.E.R. cruised through the sultry “Focus,” urging the ladies in the crowd to sing the song to their boyfriends. After covering Rihanna’s “Yeah, I Said It” and Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.,” H.E.R. alternated between her two EP’s, blazing through “Every Kind Of Way” from Vol. 2 and the song that put her on everyone’s radar, “Jungle (Remix),” a remake of Drake’s “Jungle” from If You're Reading This It’s Too Late. She closed out her set with an impassioned performance of “Changes” singing about being so deeply in love with someone dismissing her lover's other “options.” She flexed her vocal chops further with indelible vocal runs and punctuated her performance by holding a sharp falsetto note for seconds with ease.
@HERMusicx showing off her vocal range as she sings "Focus" #SetItOffTour pic.twitter.com/CkqpvVZcYF
— kween nee (@NerishaPenrose) September 8, 2017
While H.E.R.’s set was chock-full of sultry, slow-burning melodies, Metro Boomin took the stage to turn Radio City into a house party, ripping through his vast collection of hits, despite only clocking in just a few years in the game. Perched on top of a high mini-stage with a large screen below him, Boomin started his set with his famous tag, “If Young Metro don’t trust you, I’m gon’ shoot you” and instantly riled up the crowd. Boomin chose Future’s “Thought It Was a Drought” to kick the party off and the crowd responded by rapping along with vigor.
The celebrated producer’s Boominati logo appeared on the large screen along with dizzying black and white frequency effects. Boomin called for the crowd to put their arms around their friends as he led into the Fast Life Yungstaz’s squad anthem “Swag Surfin.” Over the course of his set, Boomin dipped into his archive and played some of his older hits (Future’s “Stick Talk” and “Where Ya At”) before transitioning into his 2017 bangers. The audience continued to sing in unison to Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3,” “Bank Account” from 21 Savage and Big Sean’s “Bounce Back.”
At 9:30 pm, the lights in the large venue went black and a loud explosion erupted from the speakers. A gigantic white square appeared in the center of the stage as heavy rain shower sound effects pervaded the air. A sample of SWV’s “Rain” swept through the venue and was quickly drowned by the screams of anxious fans. Bryson Tiller stormed the stage to perform the celebratory “Self-Made” from his newest album True to Self -- a fitting track for the R&B crooner who made millions off his debut album -- and boasted about his successes on the anthemic track.
“This tour has been fun so far. I’ve just been trying to connect more with my fans,” he told the crowd. “The first go around, I was just really nervous about everything like just getting into the music industry was a lot to take in -- the negative shit, the positive shit – it was just so much. So this time around, I told myself I’m done running from fame and I’m just gonna embrace it.”
All former doubts and fears subsided as he commanded the 6,000-seat venue with a rush of excitement and flipped between his Trap Soul and True to Self cuts. He started with “Let Em Know” and led into “Don’t Get Too High” before bringing out his first guest of the night.
New York’s own, Fabolous graced the Radio City stage and took the audience on a journey through some of his biggest hits. Fab kicked off his set with the French Montana-assisted “Ball Drop” and floated through “She Wildin,” “Throw It In The Bag,” and “You Be Killin Em.”
The Louisville crooner returned to the stage and reflected on his success with the bouncy “502 Come Up” and celebrated his blessings as he performed “High Stakes,” asking his devotees to illuminate Radio City’s hall with their cell phone lights and lighters.
Tiller’s stage faded to black and as the lights went fiery red, the singer entered the large square adorning his stage for a stripped-down performance of “Exchange.” Tiller allowed the thousands of fans gathered in his honor to belt out the infectious tune and swayed along to the harmonizing vocals coming from the crowd. He turned the energy levels up a notch and transformed the venue into a raging dance party as the rhythmic, sun-kissed “Run Me Dry” played, bringing the crowd to their feet.
Sticking to a Caribbean vibe, Tiller asked his DJ to play one of his “favorite” songs. Carlos Santana’s “Maria, Maria” blared from the speakers and the crowd knew exactly what song would follow. After leading the crowd through a snippet of “Maria, Maria,” Tiller seamlessly transitioned into his verse on DJ Khaled’s infectious summer anthem “Wild Thoughts.”
The energy in the room only skyrocketed from there and heightened when the “Self-Made” singer brought out another New York hometown hero. The eerie melody from A$AP Ferg’s “Work (Remix)” lightly crept into the venue as Ferg charged the stage to deliver the rest of the song. The Harlem native recently unleashed his latest mixtape Still Striving and treated fans to one of the project’s standout tracks, “Plain Jane.” Adrenaline rushed through Ferg’s veins and caused the rapper to jump into the crowd to perform on top of the auditorium seats as cell phone lights served as his spotlight.
As the night winded down, Tiller traveled back to his Trap Soul days and glided through the bass-heavy “Been That Way” before capping off the night with his colossal hit “Don’t.”
“I just want to take a second to say y’all my inspiration and my joy, y’all the reason why I do this shit,” Tiller humbly said in closing. “Sometimes I live in a world where I feel like I’m not good enough to do this shit but every time I touch the stage, y’all remind me that I am, in fact, good enough.”