21 Savage and Young M.A Bring Rap's Next Wave to Houston

21 Savage
21 Savage
Photo by Marco Torres
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Monster Energy Outbreak Tour Presents 21 Savage #IssaTour
Feat. 21 Savage, Young M.A, Tee Grizzley and Young Nudy
House of Blues Houston
March 31, 2017

It had to have been around the third song of 21 Savage’s set Friday night when I noticed the crowd's general makeup looked like the antithesis of one of his songs. They mostly teenagers or college students who had ponied up the money to catch one of rap’s newer anti-heroes in the flesh. Festival attire like coordinated basketball and baseball jerseys, cutoff shorts and no bras was the order of the evening; people willing to dance and throw hands if the moment called for it.

“Our tour bus broke down, we almost didn’t make this show,” 21 said.

He was right. His headlining set inside Houston's House of Blues for opening night of the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour Presents 21 Savage #IssaTour (say the whole thing like A Tribe Called Quest) had started nearly a full 40 minutes after he was supposed to hit the stage. The crowd, a frustrated bunch who were obviously complete novices to rap-show dogma, grew restless. Even as the DJ pelted them with numerous songs to quell their anxiety and audible groaning, nobody was going to win until 21 Savage showed up.

When he finally did, he held a trusty microphone stylized out of a knife in his right hand, a symbol that by and large is the whole reason we were here in the first place. 21 Savage is famous not because he’s a circumstantial rap star. Rather, he's famous and headlining his very first tour because he truly doesn’t care about anything else other than being the most menacing rapper around.

Which makes him the perfect candidate to continue this Monster-sponsored tour series. Beginning in 2011, the tour has tapped one emerging artist every year, including Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, Post Malone and Fetty Wap. In some form or fashion, each of those artists have since held a platinum plaque. 21 Savage currently has one to his credit thanks to streaming numbers and more. Rap has long championed artists like 21 Savage; his presence is far too ubiquitous to ignore.

21 Savage and Young M.A Bring Rap's Next Wave to Houston
Photo by Marco Torres

“I know a lot of niggas out here say they worth a mill ticket/ I guess everybody rich, you a goddamn liar,” he rapped on “Skrrt Skrrt.” The crowd met him at every line, even as he utilized the crowd to save himself some time and energy. As a live performer, 21 works at the same speed of a lot of his contemporaries. He uses the backing track as a justifier for back-and-forth with the crowd, which normally would drag a performer down. Not 21. With his voice being such a distinctive murmur, it hardly even matters.

As he rolled through records from The Slaughter Tape all the way to his 2016 breakthrough Savage Mode, fans found little pockets of the show to be rowdy and engaged. During a makeshift intermission, Savage didn’t even appear onstage. Instead, seven others filled the space of the main House of Blues stage, bouncing around as if it were the auditorium for a high-school talent show. It may have been a brief reprieve to hear Migos’ “Bad & Boujee” for the umpeenth time but it’s not a good thing to have it be performed by three people or more who aren’t Quavo, Takeoff or Offset.

Minutes later, Savage re-emerged, clad in a T-shirt and ready to run through a few more hits. “Sneakin’,” his late 2016 collaboration with Drake, emerged as one of the many records fans knew by heart. When “No Heart,” his breakthrough single that is currently choking Top 40 radio, blared from the speakers, fans got themselves a second wind. Every word, every direct threat and possible shot at invisible enemies uttered from 21? The crowd repeated, loudly. If the Atlanta rapper wanted to make a national anthem squarely made out of fight music, it would surely be ratified by the youth.

Young M.A
Young M.A
Photo by Marco Torres

So, About the Opener: When you have a concert headlined by opposing forces in 21 Savage and New York firebrand Young M.A, the crowd is going to have a particular makeup. From mixtape cuts to more, the Brooklyn MC made it her mission to make opening night of the tour something that belonged to her. Aside from sporadic club dates and the occasional New York City spotlight set, Young M.A hadn’t been able to see just how much dominance “Oouuh” had.

In front of a crowd of women who sported baseball jerseys with her name on the back, she attempted to rile everyone up into a nice lather before 21 Savage did. It made for a perplexing sight. The “traditional” rules of a concert atmosphere were tossed on their head, because a large chunk of the crowd nodded and swayed and rapped along to both M.A and her backing track, lyrical content be damned. The more younger artists who decide to flip societal norms, the better.

On the surface, “Ooouh” is an extension of Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” record from 2014, a burly, dance-ready anthem. Only difference is, Young M.A completely owns the fact that it mixes ownership of her sexuality rather than hardheads on the block who double as a crew. Houston understood this, ready for the precise moment to yell back, “You call her Stephanie? I call her Headphanie!” Tough-talking New Yorkers come and go in rap. Young M.A is a wee bit different, from her look, to her diction to how she could bring an Army of Timberland-wearing women and men to a Texas rap show on the eve of April.

As fans began filing out of House of Blues on Friday night, the takeaways were pretty clear. Whatever rules we normally have about rappers, be they technicians or party animals, don’t fit the newer class. If you go to a show, you’re getting a show on their own terms. 21 Savage’s show is rowdy, full of energy, the occasional stage dive and fans willing to let restlessness, alcohol and adrenaline turn them into potential lawn darts for the authorities and security. Because in 21 Savage’s world, if you aren’t a catalyst for potential anarchy, you’re not doing it right.

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