Red Bull Music Festival: Opening Night
By John Martin
After last year’s 30 Days in Chicago featured Migos, Khalid, and Mitski, Red Bull came back to Chicago to liven up your November. Red Bull’s ventures into the music world have brought about similar festivals in New York and LA; however, their Chicago shows this month bring together artists from a wide range of genres, emphasizing Chicago natives. Opening Night featured some of the most star power in the concert series, considering that everyone on the roster was signed to the Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label. The lineup included hip hop veterans like Nas and Pusha T, as well as newcomers Sheck Wes, Teyana Taylor, Desiigner, Valee, and 070 Shake. Four hours before the concert, however, it was announced that Sheck Wes couldn’t make it due to “unfortunate circumstances.” Regardless, I was still excited to see what G.O.O.D. Music had to offer.
Before the Show
Around 8:00 PM on a rainy Saturday Night, thousands of Chicagoans descended on Wintrust Arena, a grand stadium otherwise used for DePaul’s basketball games. The stadium was transformed into a concert venue with a towering stage and a background screen, using half of the court for VIP standing room only. As per usual, the show started almost an hour late, with a DJ on stage playing a pre-show assortment of Drake, Playboi Carti, Uzi, Kendrick, etc. Surprisingly, the most played artist was Kanye West, which had a lot of people suspecting that he would show up later in the show. Considering the location and the lineup, Opening Night was the perfect storm of conditions for a Kanye appearance. By 8:52 the lights began to dim as local rapper, Jordan Kobayashi walked out to greet the audience. He spit a rapid fire freestyle about Chicago’s importance and significance, and closed with the phrase “Red Bull ain’t the only thing that gives my city wings.” The crowd went wild and a woman standing behind me even screamed “Yes! That was everything!”
New Jersey rapper 070 Shake started off the night by performing the two songs off of Kanye’s ye that she is featured on. “Violent Crimes” was up first as she sang the unmistakable lines “Falling, dreaming, talking in your sleep.” Throughout her low energy set, 070 Shake performed like she was either drunk, exhausted or just lazy. She rapped clumsily along with Kanye’s lyrics toward the end of the song as clouds reshaped and morphed in the background behind her. She followed up that song with “Ghost Town,” where she was featured toward the end exclaiming, “And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda freeeeeee.” Though she pled for the crowd to sing with her, it felt kinda strange that she only performed two Kanye songs that weren’t her own.
Valee followed up her performance with deep red lighting and a chess board swirling in the backdrop. He started his performance with arguably his most recognizable song “Womp Womp,” which had the crowd swaying along. Though I wasn’t familiar with a lot of his other songs, he and his DJ held it down for all of the fifteen minute set.
With chart topping bangers like “Panda” and Timmy Turner,” Desiigner brought the energy up as he sprinted out in all black with a yellow coat on. Throughout his set, he ran back and forth between the stage and the crowd, livening up the mosh closer to the stage. As always, he repeated his trademark, “Grrrrrrrrrrrr, yaaahhhhh” as many times as possible, and even made it a call and response with the audience. Toward the end of his performance, he rapped an unreleased song with Lil Pump, which got the crowd on their feet dancing. As a performer, Desiigner knows how to keep the crowd rowdy, by running around the stage, throwing around the microphone, and even doing the Fortnite dance a couple of times.
Fresh off the KTSE tour for her second album out in June, Harlem rapper, model, dancer and actress, Teyana Taylor electrified the crowd with a condensed version of K.T.S.E. As a string instrumental for “No Manners” played over the stadium, she emerged with three back up dancers and a drummer before launching into the chorus. She stood out as one of the most talented performers of the night, matching the choreo of her backup dancers while belting out hits like “Hold On” and “Gonna Love Me.” After doing the fortnite dance too, she ran off the stage as the lights cut out. In an unexpected fake-out, she ran out on stage again to perform “Rose In Harlem,” with a slower break down at the end.
With a controversial feud with Drake and a critically acclaimed album under his belt for 2018, New York rapper and G.O.O.D. Music president, Pusha T, has a lot of hype to live up to. He started his set by rapping the first lyrics of “If You Know You Know” a cappella, and then brought in the music to accompany him as the crowd went wild. Between tracks, he served as his own hype man, saying “I wanna welcome y’all to the Daytona Experience, and when I’m talking Daytona, I’m talking album of the year.” Wearing a bandana and a brown jacket, Push was in full form with all the yuggghhs you could ask for. After playing mostly new music, he closed his set with “Don’t Like” by Kanye West.
Before Nas went on, a DJ hyped up the crowd by playing “Mo Bamba” even though Sheck Wes couldn’t make it. What followed was a mix of rap songs which slowly moved back in time until the DJ was playing nineties hip hop classics. Nas walked on stage over the instrumental for “Adam and Eve” saying “Chicago! One of my favorite cities in the world!!” He followed “Adam and Eve” with “If I Ruled The World,” showing off a mix of new music and older classics. Each of his songs were matched with striking visuals: fire for “Hate Me Now” and intense crime scenes for “Cops Shot The Kid.” At forty five minutes, Nas had the longest set of the night, and by the end the audience was mostly satisfied but exhausted.
From hip hop classics to brand new upstarts, Opening Night felt like a sampling of everything G.O.O.D. music has to offer (minus Kanye West). In less than 3 hours, they managed to put on an exciting performance with a diverse range of high energy acts. For what Red Bull Music set out to do, Opening Night was a success.