"Early contender for best city on the tour."
Marlon Craft, the 27-year-old Manhattan native, was riotously and lovingly welcomed, for the first time ever, to Houston Thursday night at Satellite Bar. Performing alongside fellow microphone fiend and iconic Houstonian Bobby Feeno — rap persona of former Texans running back Arian Foster — the rapper dazzled with a potent mix of cutthroat lyricism and profound expression.
The two connected through their mutual appreciation of each other's work and have been touring together this month on Craft's "South for the Winter" tour. The explosive and complex lyricist has gained a cult underground following since his East Coast breakout. His brief tour brings him south to several key cities, including Atlanta and Houston, for the first time in his young career.
Feeno, who has been opening for Craft with a 30-minute solo set each night, was welcomed home by an intimate yet boisterous crowd singing every verse word for word. While the former running back joins a long tradition of pro athletes turned entertainers, his diversion into music (unlike those of his contemporaries) has been nothing short of astounding. The philosophy major turned pro-bowler is, in fact, a talented writer, vocalist and pianist in his own right. His smooth and seemingly effortless lyrical delivery has been compared, in both tone and cadence, to Grammy-winning rapper, J. Cole.
His debut 2018 album, Flamingo and Koval, despite muted critical acclaim, hit a nerve with fans, garnering Feeno a die-hard and not quite localized following. His performance Thursday night ignited those fanatics with samples from both Flamingo and Koval as well as his 2019 EP, A Late February — a brief but more conceptually focused project.
In his second show in Houston, Feeno showed notable growth as a performer. His effervescence on stage was contagious — a sign of his growing comfort as he and Craft reach the end of their eight-city tour.
Following Feeno's set and a brief interlude, Craft seemed almost taken aback by the roaring welcome he received. The resident of Hell's Kitchen jumped into his signature brand of heavily worded, autobiographical and often complex hip hop. By way of introduction, he followed his opening track with an extended a capella freestyle touching on themes of race and culture, identity, oppression, white privilege and expectations — all prevalent within his discography. He followed it up with tracks from his 2019 album, Funhouse Mirror, as well as samples from previous projects dating back to 2016.
What seemed an already uncharacteristically loud crowd during Feeno's set erupted into an atmosphere unrivaled by venues twice as big. A mere 100 or so in attendance shook the building as Craft maneuvered through his setlist. The lanky redhead dominated the small stage with a lyrical mastery that seemed to channel '90s era beast coast poetry.
While their rap styles — one smooth and vocally driven, the other gritty and aggressively complex — are sonically opposed, both Bobby Feeno and Marlon Craft represent a brand of modern MC hell-bent on putting the craft back in hip hop. While they face an uphill battle against the overwhelming commercial power of sometimes mindless and drug-addled gen-Z rap stars, their reception and growing acclaim could signal a changing of industry tides. Or, at least, give hope that true lyricism can thrive in niche pockets of the industry.
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