Nicki Minaj Bayou Music Center July 28, 2012
I am told by countless bloggers that Nicki Minaj is a "polarizing." Her Grammy performance, her lyrical abilities, whether she's a rapper or pop star, the quality of "Starships"; all have been debated endlessly on this here World Wide Web.
Because the Internet is an echo chamber and her detractors are extremely vocal, you're liable to forget that part of being polarizing means that there have to be people on the other side that really, really love you. If no one liked or cared about Nicki, people would stop writing about her. There's a reason we stopped talking about Kreayshawn.
When Nicki hits a city it's an event, no matter what size venue she plays. In this case it was this past Saturday at Houston's Bayou Music Center and unlike on the blogosphere, her fans were out in force.
The Warm Up: Although I've heard him on the radio countless times before, going in to the show I didn't know much about 2 Chainz other than that he hangs out with Kanye and used to be named Tity Boi.
Things I learned about 2 Chainz Friday night:
He's got a good street team, as evidenced by the amount of 2 Chainz fans being used by audience members trying to keep cool. He's got an impressive collection of hit songs to pull verses from, which makes him more famous than at least five people on G.O.O.D. music.
He speaks in third person and wears his own merch, which means he'd be right at home hanging out with The Rock and Danzig. He loves Pimp C, and brought out Mama C in a nice moment.
The Nicki We Know: Our first look at Nicki was with a mock church background with her and her dance crew wearing black robes while the beat to "Roman's Revenge" dropped. The robes were not long for this world, but it was a nice callback to that Grammy performance that got so many people worked up.
She hit the ground running after that with the focus of the first part of the show being songs that display her lyrical ability and love of cursing in an easy to listen to hip hop package. The crowd was electric from the start, eager to scream out the obscenities along with their idol.
2 Chainz made a return appearance for his verse on "Beez In The Trap," and the cheer he got when he hit the stage was loud enough to make you forget he had just spent 30 minutes rapping earlier in the night.
Pop Diva: The big problem with this show is that the transitions are awful. I get that it takes time to put on new wigs and change outfits, but I'm not sure the answer is to just have the DJ spin songs you aren't going to perform while doing some half-assed call-and-response.
The crowd still managed to lose their minds every time Nicki returned to the stage, which can only mean that lazy can still be effective.
After a quick jaunt through "Starships," which the crowd ate up, and "Pound the Alarm," the pop portion of the show came to a quick conclusion.
Heartfelt Nicki: What followed was the most interesting part of the show. Minaj says other reviewers have referred to it as her "male-bashing" segment of the wvening, but I saw it as the eye of the storm that is Hurricane Nicki.
It may have only lasted two songs, but "Fire Burns" and "Save Me" felt like the closest we got to seeing the person born Onika Maraj: No funny voices, no theatrics, just a young woman rapping from the heart about heartbreak. It was a nice change from the frenetic pace of the rest of the show.
Vintage Nicki: After another overlong wig and wardrobe change, Nicki returned to the stage for a medley of her older work from when she was first making a name for herself. It was a combination of tracks from her old mixtapes and featured verses on songs by Drake and Trey Songz.
The choices here were a bit questionable; I have nothing against her bit in "Bottoms Up" but it would have been nice to hear the vocal pyrotechnics of "Monster" in person.
Space City Appreciation: Nicki has a lot of friends in the rap game, and in other markets she's given up time in her show to let the locals come out and do their thing. It wasn't much of a surprise then that she shared the stage with some of Houston's finest.
First up were Paul Wall and Slim Thug, who proved that it's still impossible not to move when "Still Tippin'" comes on the stereo. Then it was time for the one and only Bun B to do his thing, which led to one of the funnier moments of the night.
Bun starts off with some "Big Pimpin'" and the crowd is into it, moving and shaking and singing along and everything is great because "Big Pimpin'" is great. He finishes up and goes into "Get Throwed," and the energy in the crowd noticeably drops.
The people up front might have still been excited, but looking towards the back of the venue and balcony, there were a lot of people just hanging out and waiting for Nicki to start again. If you're a cultural anthropologist who likes hip-hop, you probably got a chuckle out of the situation.
The End: BMC was in theater configuration Saturday night, which meant that instead of people pushing up on each other trying to get closer to the action, people just stood on their chairs. Being both short and kind of clumsy, I wasn't able to participate in the chair-standing which meant I spent a lot of time trying to peek around the assembly of heads and asses blocking my view.
If you're the type of person that wants to know about the quality of her dancers and stage design, join the club.
It's always weird when a reviewer says that your enjoyment of something hinges on how much you like it to begin with, because that's an incredibly obvious point. Most performers aren't particularly dynamic, and unless they're either mind-numbingly awful or jaw-droppingly amazing, they aren't going to do much that's going to move you one way or another.
Nicki Minaj is neither mind-numbing or jaw-dropping. She's a woman at the start of a promising career on her first major headlining tour who happens to have a bunch of fans that love her unconditionally. When you love someone that much, you look past the overlong wardrobe changes, the bad transitions, and the fact that if you were at the back of the venue you probably had trouble seeing the stage.
You're literally just happy to be there.
At least I think they were happy to be there. It's really hard to read the back of someone's head.
Personal Bias: To answer the questions at the start of this blog, I think the Grammy performance was silly, Minaj has lyrical skills, is a rapper who makes pop songs, and "Starships" is one of the worst songs to become popular in a real long time.
The Crowd: More girls than boys, with fewer pink wigs and more bros in tank tops than I'd have guessed.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Get that goddamn cameraphone out of the way," said the lady who was also trying to record the show on her cameraphone.
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Random Notebook Dump: While waiting to pick up my ticket at the box office a young lady walked up to the box office to inquire if her two month old needed a ticket to the show as well. She then asked if the show was going to be loud.
The guy at the box office told me that he gets that question a lot. If at any point in your life you find yourself asking a stranger if something is going to be too loud for your two month old rethink your priorities. Are babysitters really that expensive?