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Review: Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul at Neumos

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The best thing about attending a concert on a Sunday night featuring an artist that doesn’t get much radio play is that the audience is virtually guaranteed to be comprised of real fans. The “Groovy Tour” Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul concert on Sunday night at Neumos was no exception.

Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul form part of the recently popular rap group “Black Hippy.” The collective, which includes Sunday’s performers in addition to Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar, has recently helped bring Los Angeles area rap back to relevancy. The “Black Hippy” is distinctive because it is comprised of four independent artists who feature heavily on each other’s projects and are united under the Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) label.

Schoolboy Q’s popularity has been steadily increasing since the release of his Setbacks mixtape and exploded after the release of Habits and Contradictions. Schoolboy Q is the self-appointed “stoner” of Black Hippy; his alternately laid back and yet oddly aggressive style reflect the contradiction of his rather laid back personality and the hard life he raps about. Opening for him on his tour is Ab-Soul, the alleged “genius” of the Black Hippy collective. Ab-Soul is distinctive for his skills as a lyricist and his ‘smarter than thou’ style. The latest Black Hippy project is his newest album, Control System, which was released a couple weeks ago.

The concert was opened by DJ Swervewon. Neumos was slowly filling up throughout the entire set and like most openers, the DJ was greeted with a rather low energy crowd anxious for the live performances to begin. The crowd was relatively apathetic until progressively more popular songs began to be played towards the end of the set. ‘Let it Be’ by Dyme Def elicited some recognition from the crowd, but in general the young audience was simply anxious for the show to begin.

Seattle native Spac3man opening the show

At around 9:30, Spac3man began his act with an explosion of energy. The artist was dressed in an almost ridiculous all white outfit and sunglasses which highlighted his eccentricity and just increased the impact of his rather spastic onstage presence. His performance of ‘Dream’ was well received, but in general most of the audience was not familiar with the Seattle native’s music. Spac3man is a relatively well-established Seattle artist, but many young adults in Seattle don’t have much exposure to Seattle hip hop beyond a few extremely popular artists. However, Spac3man’s energy was rather infectious and the crowd responded to his calls for participation and reached for his freely distributed CDs. Spac3man literally jumped around the stage for an hour, had guest artists and even joined the audience at one point. In general, he was a great performer even if most were unfamiliar with his music.

Spac3man was followed by another DJ. By now the crowd was getting restless; the energy in the room was increasing even as people were watching the clock or rolling blunts in preparation. The energy was finally released as A$AP Rocky’s ‘Peso’ came on; the song elicited a huge response from the crowd and people began jumping up and down to the music. TDE label-mate Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Hiiipower’ whipped the crowd into a frenzy of anticipation as it neared 10:30. Already it was evident that the audience near the stage was full of TDE fans; most people were rapping along with Kendrick Lamar.

Finally, Ab-Soul came on to a huge round of cheering. The artist was wearing his distinctive sunglasses despite being inside and began his set very naturally with ‘…’. The audience burst into chaos with the beginning of the performance and it was clear that most people were as well-versed in Ab-Soul’s music as they were in Schoolboy Q’s, despite Ab-Soul’s rapped complaints about his lack of notoriety. Ab-Soul’s mention of Control System, he was answered by an uproar; most of the crowd rapped along with his ‘Black Lip Bastard,’ which is among the more popular songs from the album. When the artist mentioned Danny Brown, everyone was already prepared to follow him on the newly released track ‘Terrorist Threats.’ Ab-Soul’s popularity was made clear during the performance of this song; the piece is relatively new and yet the audience drowned out his voice during the refrain.

Schoolboy Q’s arrival was greeted by the same energy. He began his set with a towel over his head and the lights dimmed; the audience went wild as the lights came on. The towel was removed during the course of the first song to reveal a ridiculously colored fishing hat. Next to go was Schoolboy Q’s shirt; Schoolboy Q remained shirtless and sweating under the lights the majority of the performance while recognizing his lack of a pristine body. The crowd went crazy with the beginning of ‘iBETiGOTSUMWEED’; Schoolboy Q was virtually drowned out during the chorus of the song. The artist seemed to feed off the energy; he was an extremely confident performer who took advantage of the transitions between songs to establish a very confident and laidback on-stage persona. As the smoke in the room rose, the rapper asked, “Who’s smoking some good dope?” and proceeded to take a pull from two blunts offered by an audience member. Schoolboy Q proceeded to speak about how he used to visit Seattle regularly and how the city is his “second home,” despite the fact that this was his first official performance in Seattle.

At one point, Schoolboy Q asked for a volunteer from the audience who claimed to know all the words to his ‘Druggy’s Wit H*es.’ The first volunteer was a teenage boy who clearly didn’t actually know the lyrics to the song and barely mumbled into the microphone along with Schoolboy; he was usurped by a girl named “Trace” who rapped impressively with Schoolboy Q. She was surprisingly charismatic and by the end of the song elicited impressed murmurs from the audience.

Schoolboy Q’s set featured a good mix of the most popular songs from Setbacks and Habits & Contradictions. The crowd was extremely responsive to call and response chants and echoed the chorus on every song, particularly ‘Nightmare on Figg St’ and ‘Figg Get Da Money.’ The crowd’s familiarity with Schoolboy Q’s work was highlighted by the cheer elicited by a story of how he came to the concert without a bodyguard, leading into his performance ‘There He Go.’

The audience was equally familiar with Schoolboy Q’s collaborations. The crowd went crazy again when Ab-Soul made an appearance yet again to join Schoolboy Q on ‘Druggys Wit Hoes Again.’ He claimed that Kendrick Lamar texted him and told him to play ‘A.D.H.D.’; the audience obliged Schoolboy Q’s request for them to sing and rap along with the Kendrick Lamar portion of the song. Schoolboy Q’s “tested” the audience by asking about his collaborations with A$AP Rocky; he laughed when one person began to sing ‘Hands on the Wheel’ prematurely. When Schoolboy Q did perform ‘Hands on the Wheel,’ the audience universally joined him in the cry to “F*** that,” accompanied by hand gestures.  Macklemore made a short appearance during this segment and was greeted by wild applause and a nod to the popularity of Seattle music by the Los Angeles rapper.

Near the end of the set, a small argument broke out directly in front of the stage that came to Schoolboy’s attention. He attempted to diffuse the argument by reaching out to shake the hands of the boys who began the argument and reminding them that fighting didn’t get him to where he was today. He reminded the audience that fighting was unnecessary considering how blessed we were and began his ‘Blessed.‘ After finishing the song, Schoolboy Q made an observation about how he noted that most of the Caucasian members of the crowd felt uncomfortable saying the word “N*gga,” despite the heavy use of the word in ‘Blessed.’ Schoolboy Q emphasized that part of the Black Hippy movement was the motto “F*ck Your Ethnicity;” he encouraged the audience to forget race and to sing all the lyrics to ‘Blessed’ along with him in a slow, spoken rendition of the chorus. This was only one example of the emphasis on the Black Hippy movement throughout the performance. Virtually every song ended with a deep voice proclaiming “Top Dawg Entertainment” or “Hiiipower,” reminding the audience of the context for Schoolboy Q’s work. Schoolboy Q himself referred to the “Third Eye” concept in Black Hippy and prompted the audience to echo his call for “Hiiipower” while holding up three fingers. This aspect of the performance not only appealed to the audience, who were obviously acquainted with the Black Hippy movement, but also made the crowd feel as though they were part of a bigger movement aiming to revolutionize rap rather than over-zealous spectators at a Sunday night show.