Under The Influence Tour feat. Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky, B.o.B, and Trinidad James Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion July 26, 2013
When I tell people that I shoot and review rap shows for a living, the overwhelming response is hate, as in "I HATE RAP SHOWS!" The feeling is understandable. Headliners are usually late, we are bombarded with 10,000 opening acts that are less interesting than watching the Astros play at Minute Maid Park, and the room is usually so full of weed smoke that receiving a DUI on the ride home is all but inevitable.
I've suffered through my fair share of such shows, and yes, they suck hard. "So why do you keep going to rap shows?" you may ask. The answer is this:
Every now and then, there is that one show where artists combine to provide an overall exciting, well planned, and well executed show. A show that reminds you that underneath the bling and the Autotune there is actual talent being showcased. A show that puts the "music" back in "rap music."
Friday night at The Woodlands, I experienced such a show. The Under the Influence Tour smoked its way into the Woodlands Pavilion with two of rap's biggest success stories of the past few years. The first was Wiz Khalifa, who rose quickly from slinging mixtapes in small clubs to selling out arenas and amphitheaters, sporting a stoner attitude and an infectious laugh, making him one of the biggest stars in the rap game. The other was A$AP Rocky, that pretty muthafucker from Harlem, New York City, who was named after rap pioneer Rakim and who is himself destined for greatness.
After battling some traffic during the Friday afternoon rush hour, I was able to catch Atlanta's own Trinidad James of "All Gold Everything" fame. I first saw Mr. James in Austin during SXSW 2013, and I must say that his energy and fun-loving attitude is a great spectacle.
He rode onto the stage on a BMX bike, dressed in an apron adorned with the Texas flag, and with the Trinidad & Tobago flag displayed prominently behind him. He hit the crowd hard early with one of my favorite tracks of the year, "Females Welcomed". He ended the set deep into the front section of the audience, rapping about popping molly and sweating. WHOO!
Fellow ATL rapper B.o.B took the stage next, bringing with him a mix of smart and sexual rhymes that have been his calling card since his first album dropped in 2010. A newcomer on T.I.'s Grand Hustle label, Bobby Ray seems re-energized and fresh, bouncing around the stage and rapping mostly new tracks such as "HeadBand," "We Still In This Bitch", and "Ray Bands."
"Anything is better than that 1 train." That's how A$AP Rocky opened his set in front of his devoted H-Town fans. The New Yorker who looked south for inspiration continues to claim Houston as his second home, adopting a mouthfull of gold teeth and the "purple stuff" motif as his own, but always giving props to the H-Town legends that inspired him.
With a full band onstage as his back-up, A$AP sounded fresh and happy, flashing his golds at every pause, to the screams and applause of the ladies in the crowd. In fact, the one thing that kept him down during the shows I've seen before were his other A$AP crew mates. The only guest he brought along was A$AP Ferg, and he only joined him for one song. Bun B made an appearance, of course.
My favorite track from Rocky is "Wild For The Night," and he performs it with just the right amount of swag and confidence. His set also included "Purple Swag," "Peso" and "Hands On the Wheel," ending with "Fucking Problems." Perfect set by Rocky.
Wiz Khalifa has been called a "modern day hippie" and the "stoner of the year." Both nicknames are appropriate, but the dude is so skinny, he could also be called "the rapping skeleton" or "the rapping scarecrow from Pittsburgh." I mean, his skinny jeans fit him baggy. I caught myself mistaking the mike stand for the rapper for almost 30 seconds, taking about ten clicks before realizing I was shooting an inanimate object!
One thing is for certain though... what Wiz lacks in body weight, he more than makes up with charisma and talent. With the moves like a rock star and a wide smile, Khalifa grabs his fans attention and never lets go. He covers every corner of the stage, interacting with the fans, dancing, jumping, and swaying his way with authority.
He definitely abides by the motto of his track "Work Hard, Play Hard". His success has been carefully scripted, which is why he is now near the top of the rap pyramid.
"Eveything is better when you're high" he shouted to the crowd. The smell in the air confirmed that mostly everyone there agreed. "Young, Wild, & Free" is definitely the anthem for this audience. A pair of costume characters in the shape a joint and a lighter joined Wiz onstage, dancing to the beat. He also rapped his hits "On My Level" and "Roll Up", before ending with the smash "Black & Yellow".
"Think of peace, love, and me when you roll up" he instructed the crowd.
Way ahead of you, sir...
Personal Bias: I love any rap show that starts on time, goes strong from beginning to end, and features beautiful sound and lighting.
The Crowd: Taylor Gang kids who have perfected the stoner/skater look, suffering in the triple-digit temps of a humid Texas summer night.
Overheard In the Crowd: "A$AP! WE LOVE YOU!"
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Random Notebook Dump: There was more arrests made at this show that I've ever seen at The Woodlands. There was even an undercover lady officer or TABC agent with a drug-sniffing dog. If you bring your drugs to a show at The Woodlands, you're gonna have a bad time. Save it for later, kids!