Recap: Mac Miller / Earl Sweatshirt / Chance the Rapper In Cleveland, Ohio
I’ma keep it all the way funky: I wasn’t Mac Miller’s number one fan when he first hit. It’s not that I was mad at the new king of indie rap. Well, at some point maybe two years ago I may have giggled when Danny Brown called him the worst guy around in Rolling Stone., but really, the Pittsburgh native reminded me of people I am friends with who rap; Good dudes that smoke and like to tell a joke and maybe paint. If you end up at the wrong college party they may even play beer pong. Although this isn’t my persona, there are some photos around my mom’s old house of me wearing fairly white dude clothing. At my root, I am a backpacker from the Midwest. So to hate him for that would be hypocritical even if I want to dismiss him as corny.
Mac Miller is certainly an ambassador of Hip Hop for white teens. He always struck me as backpacker that just found a way to make a lot of normal white people show up to his events. To be honest, the 6th Element of Hip Hop might be: How to get the white audience to make things financially viable from time to time. That is a rap tradition that can be see all the way back to when Hip Hop first moved from the Bronx to Manhattan to when Public Enemy sampled Slayer to any non-Southern indie rap movement of the past decade. I am not saying people should cater to the white audience, it is usually not sexy. It is extremely culturally problematic and perhaps Hip Hop’s greatest downfall. But practically, there are a lot of white people and artists like to make money. Hell, Mac Miller sampling Lord Finesse got the DITC more money than Fat Boy Slim’s mega-annoying, mega-hit Funk Soul Brother ever completely on accident. In recent times, I have gone past just at looking at Mac Miller as someone that is helping “underground” Hip Hop be financially functional and have been bumping Mac’s guest spot on the new Camp Lo/Pete Rock Breakfast At Tiffany’s 2 tape and Red Dot Music (Ft. Action Bronson) off of Miller’s new album Watching Movies With The Sound Off in my rotation.
So when Mac came to Cleveland recently with Chance the Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt and more I figure I would fuck with it and see how the current movement in underground was panning out.
When I arrived it was quickly noted that The House of Blues was completely sold-out. Mac Miller & co. got the white teens out in mass. I wondered how Mac Miller’s crowd would take to opener, Chance the Rapper from Chicago. Sometimes big crowds only want to fuck with the headliner, yahmean, but the crowd was way into Chance’s near calypso-skat rhyme-style. I think Chance sounds like a synthesis of all the three members of Mona Lisa-era Fugees put through a really cool 20-Year Old Kid influenced by Ye’s College DropOut rapping over various Windy City sounds. I am huge fan of Chance’s recent Acid Rap Tape. Chance’s positive charm warmed the crowd as he performed joints like Juice, Everybody’s Something, and Cocoa Butter Kisses. Chance’s vocals bellowed throughout the venue with a playful bounce and a vibrancy one would hope that a burgeoning rap talent would exude upon first live exposure as he was backed by his DJ Oreo. Towards the end of his set Chance pulled out a water-gun and sprayed the crowd.
Next up was Earl Sweatshirt who was backed by Syd The Kyd. It was kind of bugged seeing Earl Sweatshirt in person. It wasn’t too long ago “Free Earl” chants were a heavy part of the Odd Future’s aura during their initial ascension to prominence because of absence in Samoa or Somali or wherever he was. Here we are now with Earl Sweatshirt about to release a new album Doris on August 20th on his own label Tan Cressida. On stage in Cleveland, Earl was wearing a camo hat and a back-pack so he completely looked like the future of fresh. His weird shaped head was cloaked. This isn’t to completely clown Earl’s dome. He probably has a big brain and that is why Earl’s forehead is unusually shaped. The shape of Earl’s head made me think of him as an outsider artist when I saw him a few years back. Well, At the House of Blues did not look weird. Earl looked like he could be on the cover of Soundbombing 18. Early on Earl rocked Chum which is song about being rendered an outsider by various cultural stereotype as well as the psychological impacts of his father’s absence of 12 years over a piano. The crowd knew the song well as Chum has over 3,000,000 you-tube views and is the first single off Doris.
I am not trying to paint the show EMO. Earl performed joints Kill and 150 Molasses which inspired the entire crowd to chant “I’ll Fuck The Freckles Off Your Face Bitch”. Mac Miller came out in the middle Earl’s set and they both danced to Kelis’ Milkshake, which was fun if not slightly confusing. After that they launched into Guild. Earl also brought Vince Staples out to rock Hive. Guild and Hive are also on Doris. It will be interesting to see what the world will look like for Earl after Doris drops.
I had reviewed Tyler, the Creator for Swingstateofmind.org so it was cool to see Earl.
Before Mac Miller came on, the house system played Atmosphere’s God’s Bathroom Floor which is a pretty early song from the Rhymesayer Group. The House of Blues was filled the to brim, and the crowd was in anticipation mode. This was a moment to think of where Mac Miller fits. Here he was headlining a sold-out House of Blues in support of his recent album Watching Movies With the Sound Off which sold 101,795 despite being released the same day as Yeezus, and J-Cole’s Born Sinner.. It’s tempting to compare him to Atmosphere because they are both from the Midwest, on indie labels and extol a blue-collar value while still going on artistic tangents. But it doesn’t quite work. Mac’s crowd was normal High School kids that came to party. When you would go see Atmosphere back in the day it was emo girls, and punk rockers mixed in with Indie Hoppers and Ravers. But I think you can draw similarities on the impact and centerpieces both Atmosphere and Mac Miller play in their movements.
I don’t know Mac Miller’s catalog in super depth. So I stood there incredibly impressed with his technical rap ability, and his charisma. There isn’t really very much commercial sugar-coating to Mac’s music so for someone to capture the room in the manner that he did was pretty impressive. His fans knew all the words, and Miller himself never missed a breath. Mac Miller was backed by Cincinnati’s DJ Clockwork. who did an excellent job weaving in beats, setting up chants, and backing up Mac vocals. Mac Miller can rap live.
This whole musical session went on for awhile with Miller jumping behind piano for next before making his way to a drum set, and later deejayed while Clockwork rapped. The crowd stayed with him. The Internet from the Odd Future camp jumped in at some point.
Me personally? I was just like WTF is happening? And damn looks like this dude is going to be a stadium star one day and people will be really mad.
After this musical surprise, Miller grabbed the mic again and rocked Donald Trump to the crowd’s glee. All in All, I went to the show respecting Mac Miller as an important lightening rod in underground Hip Hop’s cultural transmission. I left thinking that he was a legit headliner with talent.
text: Wes Flexner
photos: Lauren Farias