With Tee Grizzley and Young M.A.
House of Blues, Dallas
Sunday, April 2, 2017
21 Savage has described his style of rap as “murder music,” and he carried this idea through his entrance to House of Blues last night. The rapper, né Shayaa Abraham-Joseph, emerged from what looked like the doorway of a cabin wearing a hockey mask and wielding two large knives.
The horror film aesthetic is truly a good match for the dark, brooding, no-frills brand of hip-hop the Atlanta rapper delivers. And it was also a funny allusion to the internet meme that spawned the name of 21 Savage’s tour, “Issa Tour.”
During an interview last fall with VladTV, a YouTube channel that covers up-and-coming rappers, he was asked about the “cross” tattoo on his forehead, placed squarely between his eyes. Before the interviewer finished the question, 21 Savage blurted out “issa knife!”
So as he walked out holding two machetes, 21 Savage not only paid tribute to his history as a survivor of Atlanta’s mean streets but also demonstrated a sense of humor that remained through his headlining performance at House of Blues.
Issa Tour is part of the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour series, which takes buzzing artists out on the road and expands their reach. It’s the same opportunity Dallas native Post Malone was given last summer for his first headlining tour.
This current edition features Tee Grizzley from Kentucky, whose single “First Day Out” is currently going viral; Young M.A. from Brooklyn, who is continuing to milk the success of her summer hit “OOOUUU”; and 21 Savage, who seems to be on the brink of superstardom after the EP Savage Mode, a collaboration with superstar producer Metro Boomin.
While each of these rappers has attained some level of success, they are all at different stages of their careers.
Tee Grizzley was the greenest performer and the most visibly excited. He hardly spent any time on stage and preferred to embed in the front row, where he paced back and forth with a grin. He performed a few new tracks, plus hit single “First Day Out,” which he recorded just after being released from prison last November, where he had served a three-year sentence for home invasions.
Brooklyn rapper Young M.A. seemed to have grown past the anxiety and adrenaline of those first shows. For a decent amount of her set, she rapped a capella, spitting bars reminiscent of classic New York rappers. If she felt a line was lost on the audience, she’d say it again.
Young M.A. was clearly eager to prove she’s more than a one-hit wonder, and had built a reputation in New York long before “OOOUUU” reached national airwaves. From the reaction she received, the crowd was buying it. It seemed like half of them had shown up specifically for her.
21 Savage has been on several tours over the past year, and has had singles go platinum, so he’s already a stage veteran. But it’s something else entirely to deliver a show worthy of headliner status.
His theatrical entrance established a good tone, but the first part of his set failed to sustain this momentum. At first he hardly moved. Once he peeled off his hockey mask and went into “Red Opps,” he did try to stir up the crowd by jumping around a bit, but then he quickly reverted to calmly pacing the stage and let a hype man do the rest.
The crowd didn’t seem bothered by his timidness, however. Everyone from the front to the back of the venue, and even in the balcony, could be seen fully participating in the show, whether that meant flashing their phone lights, waving their hands or rapping along.
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Midway through the show, 21 Savage vanished and let a DJ take over. After a long hiatus, he returned in a new outfit and closed out the show with help from his Slaughter Gang associates. The show ended with “No Heart” and “X,” which drew the biggest reactions of the night.
These songs offered 21 Savage one final chance to break out of his emotionless, expressionless demeanor, and he finally seized. It was a refreshing moment and proved that he has the ability to carry a show, without the crutches of a DJ set and a hype crew, if he can only figure out how to stay loose.