On a warm Wednesday night (Sept. 5) at Irving Plaza, Lil Baby, City Girls (Yung Miami), YK Osiris, and a surprise visit from 6ix9ine illustrated a new conundrum that’s playing out in real time for countless artists on the Harder Than Ever Tour. How do you transition millions of views, streams and followers into something tangible? In a world where a rap writer can throw a rock in a crowded room and hit someone with a viral smash, the mark of a soon-to-be icon lies in how they transform the internet’s abstractness into something real.
Lil Baby is a conductor. He wasn’t the night’s most excited performer (hey, Miami) or the most chaotic (6ix9ine), but his innate sense of propulsion got the audience where it needed to go. Shy, brooding and nonetheless charismatic, Lil Baby strolls across the stage with a calm presence. The screaming women crowding the front of the stage were happy to let him bask in his understated energy.
The first unexpected gamble of the night was starting his performance with the Drake-assisted “Yes Indeed.” The Wheezy produced song is the Atlanta rapper’s most successful single and his first top 10 song on the Billboard Hot 100, and the crowd reacted like it. The room yelled “Wah, wah, wah, bitch I’m the baby” with such force, it set the bar astronomically high for the rest of the night.
Thankfully, the Harder Than Ever rapper had another level to the show as he fiercely propelled through “All of a Sudden” featuring Moneybagg Yo, Gunna’s “Oh Okay” featuring Young Thug, and “Life Goes on” featuring Gunna and Lil Uzi Vert. The excitement from his Gunna collaboration speaks to the duo’s innate chemistry, a promising set-up for the pair’s forthcoming tape, Drip Harder, due later this month.
As far as showmanship, Lil Baby is still figuring out how to harness his charisma over the course of an hour-long set. The highlight for the Atlanta star came during “My Dawg” and “Freestyle.” Both songs found the young rapper settling into a groove. It was evident the repetition of performing his earliest hits gave Baby the confidence to assuredly waltz through with the knowledge of how many crowds have reacted in the past.
By the time 6ix9ine came out to surprise the audience, Lil Baby was bringing the New York rapper into his world instead of the other way around. The rainbow-haired rapper furiously barreled into “GUMMO,” and the crowd matched his unique vision of raucous delivery, clearly amped from Lil Baby’s prior performances.
Lil Baby and 6ix9ine are two vastly different rappers facing the same problem: Despite having a proven hit, they’re still fighting for a sustainable future. Watching from the back of the crowd, it looked like Baby’s methodical demeanor might be the safer bet.