G.O.O.D. Music Caps Wild Year With Hit-or-Miss Chicago Showcase

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Pooneh Ghana / Red Bull Content Pool 
Pusha T performs during the Red Bull Music Festival Opening Night in Chicago on Nov. 3, 2018. 

The hip-hop history books will decide, of course, but it’s hard to think the stretch of May-June 2018 won’t go down as one of the genre’s wildest months in recent memory.

Weeks from reemerging on Twitter only to showcase his mangled enlightenment and then broadcast it to the world in HD via his now-infamous TMZ live hit, Kanye West decamped to Wyoming, brought along his G.O.O.D. Music label family -- as well as, it seems, anyone whose musical contribution he might sporadically desire -- and made it his mission to write and produce not only his own album, Ye, but also ones from some of the label’s’ most crucial artists including Nas, Pusha T, Kid Cudi and Teyana Taylor.

Saturday night (Nov. 3) in Chicago for G.O.O.D. Music’s showcase-on-steroids at the Wintrust Arena, which kicked off the month-long Red Bull Music Festival, should have been something of an exclamation point for West, and more specifically his label’s wild summer. There were highlights, to be sure -- most notably from Nas, who reminded the arena crowd why he remains one of hip-hop’s most consistently pleasing live acts, and Teyana Taylor, the massive-voiced R&B star-in-waiting whose sensual and soulful K.T.S.E shined brightest among the June offerings. But underwhelming showings from some of the label’s brightest young talents (070 Shake and Valee) and notable absences from West, Cudi and “Mo Bamba” breakout star Sheck Wes (billed but a last-minute cancellation due to illness) felt like a missed opportunity.

With all respect to Kid Cudi, if a single artist emerged from June’s G.O.O.D. experiment the clear winner it was 070 Shake. The recent 20-year-old label signee is a talented rapper and singer, but made waves for giving Ye a much-needed dose of grime and emo flair, first on “Violent Crimes” and especially with her moody bark on standout “Ghost Town.” Perhaps it was only natural she chose to open the evening’s show not with material off her own Glitter EP but rather renditions of those two songs.

“Since I’m in Chicago I’m gonna do two songs I was blessed to be on thanks to Kanye West,” she said at the show’s outset. But for an artist whose voice thrives on its feral ferocity, Shake’s performance was flat and screechy. Whether off-pitch or simply hampered by a poor sound system, the young star’s potential -- no matter how much she created her own party-of-one wilding -- couldn’t transcend the circumstances.

Valee was an even more confounding case. Performing for a hometown crowd in the largest venue of his young career, the most-imitated emcee of the moment seemed to get swallowed up by the moment. The soft-spoken singer’s slinky songs, like “Womp Womp” and “Miami,” have a languid energy, but he had too much chill on Saturday. Rather than stepping out as the new star he clearly is, Valee, repping his label boss with the new Yeezy Mauve 700s on his feet, instead let his over-caffeinated hype man take the shine. Add to this the fact that the backing track was blaring at a deafening volume and drowning the rapper’s quiet flows and distinct wordplay and it felt like Valee was a supporting actor in his own film.  

Energy was something Desiigner certainly didn’t lack. The “Panda” party-starter, decked out in a puffy yellow winter jacket, was instantly in full-hype mode: he entered to his chart-topping song, leapt into the crowd on multiple occasions and cheesed like a giddy goofball while doing his best BlocBoy JB impression with a hilarious rendition of The Shoot dance during “Timmy Turner.” Desiigner has been relatively quiet as of late and this was a clear reminder that whether you’re always in the mood for his shtick or not, at minimum the man knows how to entertain.

Teyana Taylor certainly does as well. And from the moment she sprinted onstage, three back-up dancers in tow, the brilliant singer took no prisoners. Prowling like a boxer circling its prey, Taylor -- signature titanium abs on full display in a crop top, NBA logo shorts and red Jordan’s get-up -- possessed that rare gift of executing precise choreography while never losing her breath as she unleashed her modernist soul via her iconic “Dark Fantasy” feature or on “No Manners” and  “Gonna Love Me” off her excellent K.T.S.E. One only wished Taylor’s undeniable gifts have been experienced more fully in a less sterile setting.

But, as became clear not only by the length of their performances but also by the ramped-up production, the four previous sets were really a precursor for G.O.O.D. label boss Pusha T and hip-hop icon, Nas. “I’d like to welcome you all to the Daytona experience,” King Push bellowed, his eyes bulging from their sockets as he stepped to the edge of the stage, gripped the mic and launched into the menacing Daytona opener “If You Know You Know.” The former Clipse emcee has long been a savage lyricist, but this past year -- whether via the colossal Daytona or his verbal assaults on Drake -- has seen him at the peak of his powers. Saturday was only a continuation: “When I’m talking Daytona I’m talking rap album of the motherf--king year,” he barked. It was hard to disagree.

And while Nas may have caught flack for what felt like a half-baked effort in this year’s Nasir, the rappers headlining set was a reminder of his undeniable legacy. Reminding the crowd how, years back, he’d shot music videos in the since-shuttered Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor Home housing projects, the New York City native used his show in “the most gangster city in the world” as a sign of respect for his Windy City brethren. It was a spectacle, to be sure: massive visuals hovered behind him and he bathed in serene lighting as he tore through a greatest-hits set including “Hate Me Now,” “If I Ruled The World" and Illmatic gem “One Love.” Even some of his newer fare, like the reflecting “Adam and Eve,” had a sharp bite.

It was all a brilliant reminder of how, when executed correctly, and with the right talent and palpable energy, a hip-hop show can still be a transcendent experience. It’s a shame not all of his labelmates heeded his example.


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