At their co-headlined show at the High Noon, J.I.D. and the duo EarthGang gave a textbook example of what a hip-hop show ought to be.
Growing from act-to-act, a connection was fostered between the performers and audience members. Instead of the usual transactional binary — audience members pay and artists perform — there was a sense that everyone at the show was working toward the same thing, something like a critical mass of hype and excitement.
The artists fed off the audience’s energy and vice verse, creating a positive energy feedback loop that exploded light right by the time EarthGang joined J.I.D. on stage for the performance’s end.
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But first, it started slowly. Including the headlining Atlantans, the concert encompassed five acts in total: local Lucien Parker opened alongside North Carolina’s Lute and the DMV’s Chaz French. The latter two are labelmates with J.I.D. and EarthGang on J. Cole’s Dreamville label.
Your correspondent arrived just when Parker finished his set, but it was clear he performed his task well. The audience was warmed up, their hushed chatterings radiating the warmth of an engine beginning to rev.
After a quick DJ set, Lute came on stage to moderate applause, quickly digging into cuts off his new project West1996 Pt. 2. Lute, as an emcee, is the definition of solid. On tracks like “Still Slummin,” he spit quick, slick bars over jazzy beats. Though he is not doing anything groundbreaking, he has a knack for what made hip-hop great, to begin with.
As a performer, though, he shined. Aside from delivering his songs well in a live setting, Lute spoke to the younger audience between tracks the way an older cousin might speak to young kids. He spoke in grounded positivity, urging them to pursue their goals with the same urgency he has.
This kind of emotional connection is only possible in a live setting and is rare at that — just ask attendees of Tyler The Creator and Vince Staples’ show.
The next act, Chaz French, repeated a similar formula. His last show on tour, French promised to make this performance his best. His music, though, was also a bit more contemporary than Lute’s. His beats were more varied, featuring hand drums and rootsiness on “IDK” and synths and snares on “Squad.” French also had more flows at his disposal, especially in the hooks department.
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Like Lute, French collaborated with the crowd, rather than condescended. He recanted a touching story of rallying from homelessness to a rap career and urged the audience to understand that being themselves was good enough as long as they were putting out love into the world.
Each performer had a knack for meeting the crowd on their level, rather than assuming audience members would feel that connection innately. EarthGang, comprised of Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot, took this to new heights.
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Coming out to older songs off of 2014’s Shallow Graves For Toys and collaborations, Johnny Venus was dressed in a tank top and a ski mask (appropriate for the snow storm that was raging outside), whereas Doctur Dot was dressed in more conventional streetwear, with a polo hat to boot.
Venus was immediately hyping up the crowd, whereas Dot seemed to take a bit to warm up. Once each was in full swing, the partnership dynamic that makes EarthGang’s music so great flowed into their performance. Shifting fast and fluidly, while one of them rapped, the other controlled the crowd or served as hype man.
As the pair progressed through their discography, moving to cuts off of their Rags and Robots EPs, they also showed why many consider them to be the most talented rappers of this era.
Tracks like “Nowhere Fast” and “Artificial” fit the mold of hip-hop of decades bygone but integrate the present. Their ability to weave in genres like electronica, brandish their singing voices and craft lyrics with nuance and narrative showing a duo with real talent.
They are also real showmen. At one point, the pair not so much leapt into the crowd but casually strolled through while performing. Usually, when a performer enters the crowd, it is a chaotic and brief affair. But for Dot and Venus, it was more like two kings surveying their kingdom or two farmers harvesting the crops they’ve cultivated.
This is a hot take, and perhaps a lazy comparison given their shared region, but given their pageantry and performance skills, there were traces of OutKast.
After a brief pause, J.I.D. carried EarthGang’s momentum into his set. And while J.I.D. is as talented an artist as EarthGang, he was not on the same level as a performer. The potential was there and the effort even more so, but as a younger artist it was clear he had some work to do in transmuting his recordings to a live performance setting.
He was no worse a performer than the openers, but his performance took a hit from the expectations associated with being a headliner. Still, he took the time to thank and engage the crowd, and the inherent quality of songs like “EdEddnEddy” and “Underwear” off of The Never Story shone through.
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J.I.D.’s performance peaked and reached its full potential when EarthGang and the labelmates came out for “Mediate” and “Division,” two of the headliners’ collaborative tracks. Perhaps feeding off the energy of his peers and the crowd, J.I.D.’s verses reached new heights on these tracks and his performance of his own songs “NEVER” and “Hasta Luego” immediately after.
To conclude the show, the DJ spun some tracks until the High Noon cut the sound. Chaz French, not wanting the night to end, tried to start a chant to get the sound back on but to no avail. Still, each performer waited on stage to chat with fans and sign shoes or hats, J.I.D. more than anyone else.
Though there were no external augments, like set design or special choreography, EarthGang and J.I.D. were able to tap into the essence of hip-hop at their concert—community, a common cause and stellar songs and beats.