Lil Debbie returned to the Fine Line Saturday for what turned out to be a headlining performance, as Chicago's Katie Got Bandz (filling in for Lil Durk, who had to cancel his appearance) ended up not showing up. The Oakland rapper held her own alongside some unannounced touring partners and local firebrand Sweetz P for a hyped 16+ crowd.
I didn't catch the name of the first trio of openers, who began by spinning records and later moved to the front to lip-sync some of their own material. From a critic's perspective, a DJ set composed entirely of DJ Mustard tracks seems entirely too easy, but it sure worked to get the audience moving. The crew's rap tracks cribbed from Migos pretty heavily, which would've been great if they'd really cultivated that influence and pushed beyond just rapping in triplets into carrying themselves as a cohesive trio.
I'm old and still like hearing people rap sometimes, but seeing performers hop around to pre-recorded tracks seemed to work for everyone else. Some moves, like the synchronized group air-humping, added some great stage energy, while others, like tossing the microphone from hand to hand, just accentuated the fact that they weren't actually rapping. I don't intend to single them out because basically no one else that night did either.
Sweetz P was the notable exception, and she powered through a strong set of big songs with her trademark grit. Stepping out while singing along to "Fight Night," she launched into a barrage of her own material with strong voicing and stage presence. She ran through tracks already proven to win over crowds, like "Impressive" and "Champagne Grammy," but closed on what might be her strongest song to date. She brought a posse onstage for her finale, an unreleased track that she seemed aware was destined to be certified hit. Spitting catchy, violent taunts over menacing and huge trap drums, Sweetz P turned in the highlight song of the night with a single confident stride.
Kansas City's Chase Compton followed, with his crew of young white boys in logo parody shirts that implied they either liked money or smoking marijuana. Though the range of sonic influences expanded beyond Migos into Big Sean and Drake territory, the subject matter didn't extend much further than those two topics. This was quintessential frat-trap backtrack rap, filled with wealth brags and struggle bars that probably wouldn't hold under scrutiny. The crew got randomly very upset at front-door security toward the end, flicking them off and cursing them out for no explicable reason. Later they came out and sprayed everyone with water guns. It wasn't terrible but it did give me a glimpse of what rap will likely look like in a decade or so.
Chi-City's performance leaned on Migos as well, but in the form of a supposed co-sign and feature from the group. Whether adding a verse to the end of "Bricks" really counts as a feature is for the courts to decide, but the rest of the set was comparably unremarkable so I'll allow it. The long period of DJ stalling that followed implied to me that Katie Got Bandz was not coming out, to the great disappointment of myself and a select portion of the crowd, but Lil Debbie's fanbase was clearly strong and kept their energy alive. This was a rambunctious crowd of teens ready to tear up downtown Minneapolis before the clock struck midnight, doing the dances not allowed at prom and getting kicked out for pre-gaming. They were determined to make this an exciting show regardless of the circumstances, and it was definitely one of the most hype audiences I'd seen in a while.
When Lil Debbie finally hit the stage, people were primed. My mind immediately moved to well-worn thinkpiece material that didn't stop jumping out at me: the performative attitude blatantly co-opting cultural identities, the twerking black woman as stage prop, the bored DJ who's annoyed that this is where the industry money is now.... It was clickbait come to life. I almost hated having to think about the political implications of Lil Debbie, wishing desperately to be one of the YouTube-weened teens who could give two shits about cultural theory. They were simply excited to be breathing the same air as a pseudo-celebrity, exaggerating their excitement without the jadedness that will soon befall their untrodden spirits. But Lil Debbie's racial masquerade was made especially evident with the lip-syncing, proving you need no longer co-opt an outside culture's skills for notoriety; the perceived attitudes and fashions are enough.
Lil Debbie's performance left something to be desired, as she squeaked over backing tracks with a down-turned energy. She seemed to hope her unfiltered persona could fill in the gaps, pausing songs on occasion to yell at security for kicking out weed smokers and repeatedly informing us that she was "a fucking bitch; you paid to see a fucking bitch." She was plenty funny and off-kilter, but veered too often into a sort of phoniness that bled into some tracks. Songs like "Gotta Ball," "The Pay," and "Bitches" legitimately go, and it was hard for even the most cynical of us to not feel the vibe. She had many kind words for Minneapolis, whose ability to turn up in the -11 degree weather she was met with last visit impressed her to no end. Inviting a mob of women onstage for her closer "Ratchets" (the clear hit that had been clamored for throughout the show), she amped the half-capacity crowd to their height and gave a climactic karaoke rendition as the selfies were snapped with reckless abandon.
"Do not touch me, I need wingspan," she said to the swarm of dancing ladies and agitated security guards. She ended with a second playing of "Gotta Ball," which she deemed a "legendary classic" and proclaimed how underrated cohort V-Nasty was. She then thanked her fans profusely and wished for all the world that she could smoke with each and every one of them. Lil Debbie catered well to her fans and turned in a satisfactory performance whose questionable aspects would've come off better if filtered by the presence of either of the proposed Chicago co-headliners. Still, if the audience leaves happy, the night's a success, right?
Personal Bias: I was here primarily for the Chicago rappers that didn't show up. Also, I'm of legal drinking age.
Random Notebook Dump: No one who raps over their own vocals can blame the sound guy for anything, sorry.
The Crowd: Teenage, rowdy, relatively diverse.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Oh my God, she pulled everyone on stage for 'Ratchets'? They kicked me out like right before that!"
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