Canadian rapper and producer Nav is in an awkward position. He’s made a career for himself by producing tracks for powerhouse artists such as Beyonce and Jay-Z, Drake and Travis Scott, which should alone earn him name recognition in the hip-hop world. But in recent years he’s stepped out as a solo performer and profited handsomely, though seemingly by his association with The Weeknd (as a part of his XO Label) — especially when the first show he was offered was a spot at Coachella.
On the road on his own, Nav’s touring in support of his sophomore album, Bad Habits, which includes a number of huge names and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The tour stopped in Dallas at House of Blues on Tuesday night and made it clear that Nav isn’t ready to stand on his own two feet just yet.
There’s no shame in not selling out the House of Blues, especially when Nav’s opener Killy isn’t a household name either. Nonetheless, the DJ and Nav, at separate times during the set, felt compelled to thank everyone for selling out the venue, even though tickets were available at the box office and the room was hardly at capacity. These are things we can overlook.
Onstage, Nav seems comfortable — much more comfortable than Abel seemed in 2011 for his House of Blues run. Nav certainly commanded the room. At times he made obvious use of Auto-tune, at other times he screamed into the mic, adding more energy to the room, as it fluctuated from song to song. To open the show he stuck to tracks from Bad Habits like “To My Grave,” “Know Me” and “Snap” before moving onto his Lil Uzi Vert collab “Wanted You.”
Technically, Nav gets it all right. His sonics are on point and utilize that hazy, atmospheric, uber current sound, coupled with trap snares. On top of that, he has an effortless flow that gives off an enviable air of nonchalance, but the fact that the DJ and Nav thanked the crowds repeatedly for selling out the venue is an over-saturating gesture. It’s an approach that dozens and dozens of artists are using. Even with a song like “Wanted You,” it’s simply more interesting to keep your eye and ear on Lil Uzi Vert. Nav does it all well, he just doesn’t do it any differently, at least not enough to garner more acclaim than he already has.
After that run of opening tracks, the rest of Nav’s set was a callback to all the successful collaborations he’s put together, which is an impressive list but brings comparisons Nav might want to avoid. When you’re watching the songs performed live, it’s hard to not think of the other artists on the tracks, like Metro Boomin, Travis Scott, Offset, Meek Mill and The Weeknd, who all put on much grander performances.
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Even if he’s not the most dynamic performer or the most original, there’s a lot of sincerity to appreciate from Nav. He genuinely looks happy onstage. Even if the crowd goes crazy for “Price On My Head” because it features The Weeknd, Nav still produced it, and he’s proud of his work. He’s living out a dream. Like most hip-hop artists, Nav recounts in interviews that if it weren’t for music, he’d be in a much worse place, if not locked up. Music is his salvation, and he worked to a point that his name runs in the same circles of superstars he now works alongside — an impressive feat.
Equally impressive, in 2019, a time when political strife enters all aspects of life, it was oddly refreshing to watch Nav, an Indian rapper from Canada, entertain a diverse crowd at the House of Blues on Tuesday night. And there wasn’t anything that needed to be said or explained about it. It just was what it was, a small marker of progress in a time when it seems like everything is on fire.
Nav closed out the show with “Tap,” his latest banger featuring Meek Mill. Yes, it hammers home the point that Nav is famous by association, but he’s still damn good at what he does, even if it’s been done before.