Atlanta rap star B.o.B brought his No Genre tour to First Avenue last night, bringing along his labelmates and Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates. An interesting combination of pop and gangsta rap, the pair put on a show to remember in front of an engaged crowd of fans.
Slideshow: B.o.B. Wows First Avenue
"Wish I Had It" features a line stating Gates has nothing in common with B.o.B. His powerful, dark street music is indeed an interesting choice to contrast with the headliner's pop-rap leanings. He does have a a similar penchant for melodic hooks, but the depth of character and stark subject matter is on another plane from B.o.B entirely. His set crept along slowly, with Gates relying on well-written backing tracks and a louring demeanor to carry the weight, but as he gradually warmed up, the performance became remarkably compelling.
In certain moments Gates proved he didn't need the backing tracks he recurrently used, as on closers and highlights "IHOP" and "Neon Lights," which featured nothing but Gates's voice and kick drums at points. He wasn't always putting his voice at the forefront, but when he'd lose himself to the song, he proved an exceptional live vocalist. He ran to the DJ in the midst of "Again," flustered mid-song, telling him, "This my shit, I'm sorry, I got all in my feelings." His performance was as raw and honest as his music, complete with warts and missteps but overall a true reflection of the man's multiple layers.
He had a fun and lively energy about him, garnering big responses from the crowd, who knew a good majority of his words. The atmosphere turned from the stunned awe of Kevin Gates's set to a sense of joyful abandon, seemingly fueled by the large amount of joints that lit up continually throughout the rest of the night. Moving between songs like "Headband," "Up Down (Do This All Day)," and "Paranoid," B.o.B showcased that he's taken part in a number of big hits despite not necessarily being the song's highlight.
He stated that the "No Genre" concept came from the desire to make pop songs, ratchet songs, and songs that have guitar in them, which unintentionally reflected the artist's major weakness: songwriting intended to check specific boxes rather than speak from a place of honesty. It served well as concert fodder but wasn't terribly meaty beyond that. Still, B.o.B has a great handle on the material in a live setting, and the songs were uniformly entertaining in their own right.
The rest of his set he picked up his pace even further, taking opportunities to leap into the audience, remove his shirt, run around the stage, take Instagram photos, play with call and response, and nab people's phones while rapping with great intensity. He's a fairly impressive performer, elevating the work from standard club material to something fuller and more distinct. Returning after a brief pause to perform his mega-hit "Airplanes," he captured most of a large and diverse audience of pop radio listeners by letting them sing most of the hook as he crowdsurfed above them.
B.o.B's aim at generalized mass appeal rap hit all the points you'd want a rap concert to hit, and he had a certain aplomb about him that made for a fairly decent hip-hop show. But Kevin Gates as opening act reflected some of the cracks in B.o.B's veneer: It was a competent, proficient, and workmanlike set, lacking in songs that delved deeper than the surface, but ultimately delivering a satisfying experience.
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