The line for The Sinclair stretched down and around Church Street last night, and it was silent. Its length was fitting for another sold-out Converse Rubber Tracks show, but aside from the occasional group of chatty friends, its lack of cheery noise fell eerily silent: red eyes from pre-gaming; headphones in, faces towards the ground. It looked like a lot of these folks were waiting for a funeral rather than waiting to see one of the crown princes of Southern hip-hop, like we were waiting for our test results and not Sir Lucius Leftfoot, a.k.a the son of Chico Dusty, a.k.a Big motherfucking Boi.
The mood persisted as we entered the venue and the show started up. Opener Renegade El Rey did his absolute best to keep the crowd entertained for his set, engaging the distracted with the enthusiasm of a pentecostal preacherman on the morning of a revival. Between each song (which, truth be told, bled into each other and would make it hard to listen to him on a mixtape or a record), he’d speechify to the crowd about how he can make any product twerk before bursting into the track by the same name. The crowd barely gave a shit, too distracted by $3 Sapporos to do anything other than raise their arms ironically. It was positively Sisyphean, like watching a man shout into an empty cave, if that cave had been wearing a Harvard sweater. The true faithful gathered near the front and hooted and hollered throughout his set, bobbing along to “I Fuck Wit Y’all” and laughing at his banter. If anything, I’d wished I’d been able to watch El Ray at his own show, where he could easily command attention and respect. It was disappointing only in the sense that I wished I’d been as immersed in the moment as I had been later on in the night.
Nashua native Aziz the Shake came to the stage soon after, and seemed to look past the crowd, saving his energies for attentions more important than those who came to this show on a lark. He spoke bluntly and thanked Big Boi and Converse and the Sinclair from all of his heart, and embarked on a short a capella rap that seemed to hush the crowd and draw each and every light to center stage. From then on, Aziz controlled the room, sweat pouring from his face on to his Bruins jersey, enlivened less by the adoring crowd than by the crazy moment he found himself in. It was an incredible effort, and few could ignore his palpable glee at the moment he found himself in. Aziz had something to prove, and he put his back into tracks like “Sunroof Vision” and “Middleman,” and the effort had a transformative effect.
In fact, shortly after Big Boi took the stage with his drummer, vocalist, bassist, DJ, and Hype Man/Vocalist Sweet Brown, I saw Aziz standing on top of the railing near the emergency exit, talking excitedly to friends as the man of the hour performed “So Fresh, So Clean.” I’m shocked I even noticed that small moment, as wrapped up on what was happening in front of me, having my high school jams performed in front of me by the real fucking deal — “Kryptonite,” “Ms. Jackson,” “B.O.B,” “I Like the Way You Move”… the classics kept coming. At first there was some cognitive dissonance for me, as I kept expecting Andre 3000’s verses to follow in each of the Outkast songs, but I came around. It’s a shame he feels the need to play so many of those songs, as his last two solo records have been really great on their own, but the man wants to put on a hell of a show.
And he does.
By the time he wrapped up an encore performance of “International Players Anthem,” everybody was drunk with joy. I could smell the exhaust from my shitty Volvo, the afternoon sun pouring in its windows, bathing all of Raleigh in an amber light, and it was then that I realized two things. The first was that the crowd was there to relive their similar memories, and that I really was watching a group of 30-somethings metamorphosize into a group of middle schoolers. As he flowed between tracks from Stankonia and Speakerboxxx, the phones went away. Their hands went straight up in the air, like they just, blissfully, didn’t care. The second was… well, that I’d worn blue Vans to a Rubber Tracks show. Glad everyone’s attention was fixated on the stage.