The ringing in my ears has finally stopped. It took a full 24 hours for me to recover from 2 Chainz’s sold-out concert Saturday night. Along with Pusha T, 2 Chainz brought his 2 Good To Be T.R.U. Tour to the Rave in Milwaukee for an evening of uncompromising authenticity and turnt-up enthusiasm.
Saturday’s show featured two artists with similar stories: rappers who have been around for more than a decade but who only have recently broken into the mainstream. However, that experience has manifested itself in very different ways. Pusha’s music stays grounded in the gritty reality of his life, while 2 Chainz’ is much closer to the giddy exuberance of a teenager in a strip club.
On stage, Pusha T was a massive presence; terse and economical movements embodied confidence and an unflinching gaze emphasized his already large frame. His short set touched on the majority of his critically-acclaimed debut My Name Is My Name, starting with “King Push” and working through album highlights such as “Pain” and “40 Acres.”
Not a naturally spontaneous performer, Pusha stayed firmly grounded in front of the mic, bringing significance and menace to his stark beats and boasts of ghetto authenticity. Lines like “pain is finding out you’re poor / while the Feds knock at your door” were accentuated with knocking motions and knowing nods.
The crowd was appreciative but mostly quiet. Pusha T isn’t exactly the kind of rapper you dance along to. The payoff is found instead in the visceral impact and gravity that his presence brings to the music. Above all, Pusha wants you to know that he means it.
2 Chainz took the stage after a short break and provided a welcome counterpoint to the gritty realism of Pusha T’s music.
Full of animated energy and sporting a chain as big as his wrist, he ran through tracks spanning the majority of his output under the 2 Chainz moniker. The highlight of his performance was seeing his raucous personality on full display. Wearing a big smile for the majority of the show, he clearly enjoyed his time on stage.
Energetic and gleeful on stage where Pusha T was subdued and threatening, 2 Chainz was less of a performer than a conductor, masterfully building the crowd to a climax of ratchet abandon. Almost every song was a hit, by virtue of his being featured on virtually every popular track of the past year.
He infused songs such as “I Love Dem Strippers” with a buoyant energy, keeping the audience shouting along with the eponymous chorus. Hits such as “R.I.P.,” “Fuckin’ Problems” and “I’m Different” were mixed with songs from earlier albums and kept the crowd consistently dancing and engaged. For a moment it was easy to live how 2 Chainz apparently does, in a world full of money, strippers and just doing you.
Between songs he somewhat shamelessly plugged his new album B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time and advocated living a 2 Chainz lifestyle. A quieter moment featured a short eulogy for a friend who recently passed away from cancer while pictures of the friend and his family appeared in the background. During longer breaks, short movies done in silhouette played on the screen behind him, showing a raid on a trap house and a hilariously graphic evening with a lady friend.
Despite his enthusiasm, his performance seemed at times overly-calculated. He stuck close to his usual setlist and the lead-ins to songs were sometimes clearly rehearsed. The hints of a calculated stage presence sometimes detracted from the lively energy he brought to his show. Still, 2 Chainz is a natural performer, and allowing some spontaneity into his performance would have only added to the infectious delight he displays on stage.
That being said, 2 Chainz is a cultural juggernaut at the height of his powers. Watching him revel in his success live is always a satisfying experience. There are also few things more gratifying than shouting along with the defiant chorus of “I’m Different” in the middle of a sold-out crowd, led by the king of being different himself.