A spattering of students and others gathered in the Union Courtyard last Friday night to take in some well-deserved music, commemorating their survival of the semester’s first week. A light trickling of attendees gradually filed in to the (somewhat bewildering choice of) Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” It is worth noting that though we would be in for a night of hip-hop, Skrillex’s throwbacks to my pre-pubescence would be a mainstay of the evening. Small cliques of audience members began to form across the floor as those that came with each other gravitated closer together; the surrounding levels above were dotted with audience members prepared to enjoy the show from their eagle-eyed distance.
As the somewhat incongruous transitionary playlist began to fade, our first artist, a local rapper originally from Junction City by the name of d.Reasco, took to the stage. d.Reasco’s energy erupted immediately and impressively, especially when considering the series of stoic islands that were the attendees making up the sea of the audience. For all the initial reticence and isolationism the small number of audience members were each attempting to maintain in the seemingly cavernous space of the Courtyard, d.Reasco was able to convey his thrill to his onlookers. Playing a mixture of original and covered songs, d.Reasco introduced us to his own artistic self while also inviting us into his art world through the familiar lines of songs such as Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang”, a veritable masterpiece. d.Reasco gave an enthusiastic performance to the point of breathlessness.
However, for all the successes of the performance, it was not without its complications. The cross-cultural awareness was somewhat lacking in the song “The Garden v.s The Honey Bees” which included a line detailing how he was “smoking so much weed that [his] eyes are Japanese.” To further his point, during that line, d.Reasco reinforced his stereotypical representation by pulling both eyes into a squint with his forefingers, complementing the lyricism with this equally disconcerting visual to drive the imagery home.
Following d.Reasco (and the subsequent Skrillex resurgence during the break) was Manhattan staple Hype Man Kel. Kel appeared on stage to a gradually increasing crowd, and swept us up into his world immediately. Energy overflowed as Kel bounded back and forth across the stage, presenting both his own and his covers of songs at the audience. I’ve said this before in a concert review I did for the Collegian, but smaller artists’ use of covers in their set provides a great invitation for the crowd to bridge the gap of generally not knowing this artist; this is an enormously effective move which I very much appreciate and which Kel used to high levels of success.
Another “However,” the transitions between his songs didn’t necessarily sit all too well with me. In what seemed like nearly every break between songs, Kel would appeal to the “fellas” in the audience to make sure they were “holdin’ onto their honies” or “doing them right.” My memory somewhat fails me, but I don’t believe he used the word “doing.” Hip-hop is a genre which has had a significant history of misogyny and homophobia, so I understand the cultural basis on which he stands. Additionally, this is not an accusation of active or aggressive misogyny or homophobia. However, his inclination toward only addressing the men, his assumption that every man in the audience would be straight, and that his only mention of the women was by extension of their relationships to the men in their lives all manifests as a form of passive misogyny and heteronormativity that I hope we can move away from. Hype Man Kel is a great musician and performer, and going forward, I hope he can become very conscious ones too.
Finally, after our last Skrillex break, two UPC workers appeared onstage to introduce the final act and the draw which had now brought the audience to its peak capacity, Smino. In their introductions, the UPC representatives relayed “just a few housekeeping things” for the concert: the audience may only take pictures during the first three songs of the concert and may not take videos at any point. In the midst of the audience’s reactionary confusion, the main act was introduced and appeared onstage. In a pair of light grey sweatpants and white t-shirt peeking out the bottom of an appropriately chosen (or given) “Kansas State University” sweatshirt, Smino was now gracing us with an announcement of “take as many videos as y’all want. Let’s go.” And we were off.
Smino performed with a simultaneously eccentric and stoic smoothness, hyping the audience while exuding personal repose. The duality of flippancy and intentionality in his manner created a concert which was both amusing and engaging. From his use of the very purposeful goofy uniqueness of his voice down to the seemingly effortless spinning of his mic from his mouth to the audience, Smino is a very individual kind of performer, an intriguing concoction of levity and gravitas.
His flippant personality, however, caused no pitfalls in his technical ability however. His lyrical performance was masterful; I don’t know that a single word of his performance was inaudible or indecipherable, and his back and forth with his DJ was a flawless handoff of an Olympic-gold relay.
His voice, a hallmark of his music – as previously mentioned – is pretty goofy. But, a beautiful, practical goofiness. He slides in and out of the multitude of his voices as he needs them; a tool belt of vocals, and he the handyman. His music is characterized by his vocal variety and range, and a live Smino does not disappoint in that regard. His full range of voice is wonderfully accessible to him, as well as a captivating, and somewhat unexpected for me personally, singing voice which he used to its fullest in many acapella renditions of song intros and outros. As his fame grows and his unique voice becomes heard, I would love to hear a Humanz-esque Gorillaz collaboration. With Gorillaz knack for using unique voices— think Danny Brown in “Submission,” Vince Staples in “Ascension,” Kilo Kish in “Out of Body” – to their fullest, I have a feeling that partnership could be an orchard’s worth of fruitful.
Smino was an attention-grabbing, witty, and technically impressive performer. His music thus far—of which I have listened to his album, “blkswn,” and highly recommend—has established a strong base on which this St. Louis rapper may build his musical career. As the concert ended and he wished us goodnight (and crowdsourced afterparty locations), Smino and his DJ left us with some “new, unreleased stuff” that’s beginnings felt reminiscent of the weighty, outer-spatial-synth sounds of Vince Staples’ Detroit techno infused “Big Fish Theory.” As I left the concert with the lingerings of Smino’s musical future fading in the back of my mind, I looked forward to this artist filling much more than a Union Courtyard during Syllabus Week.
By: Zach St. Clair