“If I could rap, I’d perform the songs for y’all, I swear!” rising Houston DJ OG Chase B bantered with the fatigued crowd well past midnight at New York City’s Santos Party House on Thursday night. The scattered audience had braved tight security and on-and-off rain to end up waiting over two hours for any performers to take the stage.
Frustration begat altercation: Several scuffles broke out in the club before a single rhyme was uttered, most involving snappy members of rappers’ entourages and swollen security guards. “I know we don’t have more drama in the back,” Chase B sighed after one melee between a prominent New York rap crew and an opener’s clique spilled into the street. “Man, y’all at least gotta let Lil Reese get out here first!”
It seems wherever Lil Reese goes, violence follows. The 19-year-old Chicago rapper has become a new face for gangsta rap alongside his cohorts Lil Durk and the infamous Chief Keef. From murder allegations to the brutal assault of a woman caught on camera, Reese has had his fair share of controversy this year. He’s also created some of the darkest, most menacing rap in recent memory, gleefully boasting of catching bodies over horrorcore instrumentals like a post-trap Mobb Deep.
His guest verse on Chief Keef’s breakout hit “Don’t Like” put Reese on the map, but blistering war anthems like “Beef,” “Traffic” and “Us” have established him as one of rap’s last true villains. His street fame was so great that Def Jam inked a deal with Reese even before the more popular Keef had signed to a major, and “Us” prompted its own mega-remix featuring Rick Ross and Drake.
The proceedings at Santos finally commenced with host Sheist Bubz (of Purple City Byrdgang) introducing openers Asaad and Vinny Cha$e. Repping Philly and Harlem respectively, the two acts had similar sets, spitting high-fashion raps over trap beats, complete with heavy jewelry and thick crews: Vinny Cha$e’s stragglers sported ski masks with embroidered Chanel logos on the forehead.
Brooklyn duo the Underachievers, recently signed to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label, had decent crowd support as they ran through a string of viral hits like “Herb Shuttles” and “Gold Soul Theory.” The duo has been buzzing throughout the boroughs as part of the rising Beast Coast movement, and their psychedelic scriptures have won over the 420-friendly hippies of young fringe New York. Though all three openers suffered from rushed sets (the chaotic schedule changes were no fault of their own), the Underachievers triumphed as one of the most engaging performances of the night.
Yet despite all the hype, Reese underwhelmed when he finally hit the stage. He donned a gray gym sweatsuit and appeared uncomfortable with the mic, most of the time relying on the recorded vocals from his DJ’s playback and the ad-libs of Lil Durk, who acted as hypeman. During “Traffic,” instead of the Chief Keef surprise appearance many had hoped for, Juelz Santana emerged from backstage to diddy-bop and rap along; the two then performed their recent collaboration”Bodies.”
The stage was crowded with crew members and onlookers, and the crowd was only shaken from their exhaustion during the show’s closing with “Us,” at almost 3:00 a.m. However, Reese’s lackluster stage presence didn’t deter the dozen or so young ladies who clamored to the front of the stage when he arrived and pushed toward backstage once his 20-minute set concluded.
“Y’all gon’ see me again soon,” Reese promised as the set closed, saying a delayed flight and security problems had held up the show. The crowd shuffled out into the rainy Thursday night, audibly disappointed, but without any beef.