Smoker's Club Tour with Joey Bada$$ at Epic, 10/27/13

Zach McCormick

Smoker's Club Tour
with Joey Bada$$, Ab-Soul, Pro Era, Statik Selektah, Chevy Woods, and The Underachievers
Epic, Minneapolis
Sunday, October 27, 2013

"The Smokers Club" title for this buzz-courting hip-hop package tour conjures up images of the kind of recreational indulgence that would make Snoopzilla himself blush. Instead, partially thanks to the very thorough work of Epic's security, things remained decidedly PG-13. Most of the smoke was either coming from backstage or the venue's high-powered fog machines, so what we were left with was the surprisingly cerebral one-two punch of headliners Joey Bada$$ and Ab Soul.

Opener Chevy Woods' would probably be the most likely of the the 3 main acts to get played at your local headshop. The Pittsburgh-raised rapper is probably best known for his role as Wiz Khalifa's sidekick in Taylor Gang, and covers a lot of similar ground. While both Woods and Khalifa have style and personality to spare, they also share the unfortunate tendency to insult their crowd's intelligence by dumbing down their lyrics so thoroughly.

One gets the sense that Chevy Woods took a look at his prospects as an underground rapper at one point, and then decided that he'd rather write fun but ultimately empty songs about getting his swag up in the club. Not only did the rapper fail to break any new lyrical ground whatsoever, but his keen delivery and apparent intelligence really made the bottom-of-the-barrel content seem insincere.

Bundled up like Randy in A Christmas Story, Top Dawg's resident weirdo Ab-Soul took the stage and immediately washed away the sour taste left by Woods. While some might argue that the L.A. native's concepts don't differ all that far from the drug use/dealing/lifestyle material of rappers like Chevy Woods, Soul-o, like every member of his rising crew, has a real knack for injecting a unique sensibility into well-treaded ground. With a flow that's so jerky it occasionally sounds off-rythym and a tendency to lace songs about excess with dark warnings of political uprising, Ab-Soul makes for an unsettling and subversive counterpoint to the hedonism of his teammate Schoolboy Q, who got frequent shoutouts during the set.

The pairing of Ab-Soul's incisive and militant call-to-arms of "Terrorist Threats" back to back with songs he's done with Q like "Druggy Wit Hoes Again" show the rapper's broad range, although I definitely prefer the former. The song's hardcore, gutter beat had the crowd jumping and moshing, especially when paired with Ab-Soul's own take on "m.A.A.d. City" which he dedicated to Kendrick and the rest of the Top Dawg set. While the MC was a little stony onstage, he turned the crowd up like a true professional and even tossed his fitted into the crowd during the walk-off of "Pineal Gland."


Joey Bada$$ already made it to MN one time this year for Soundset, but the Brooklyn-based prodigy took this show as his victory lap after a short but technically brilliant DJ set from Statik Selektah. Bringing most of the Pro Era crew with him, including CJ Fly and Kirk Knight, the 18-year old Bada$$ put on a great showcase of why he's being talked about as NYC's hottest rising star. With a flow that is pure bread-and-butter Brooklyn, it's obvious Joey takes a lot of inspiration from the mid-'90s golden era of his city's rich tradition. Despite being young enough that he was born after Illmatic came out, the young MC has some traces of Nas' brilliance in his deft wordplay and can stack bar after bar like some of BK's finest.

Playing a surprisingly long set containing a fair amount of material from his first two mixtapes, plus a few tracks from his Pro-Era compatriots, Joey and Statik Selektah still kept things moving at a brisk pace, running each one of his dense, often hookless songs into the next. Standouts included tracks like "Sweet Dreams" which, ironically, critiques hip-hop nostalgia and also offered Badass a chance to really work the crowd.

The rest of Pro Era joined him in a touching salute to their fallen crew member Capital Steez, whose absence loomed large over the songs "Like Water" and "Survival Tactics." In the case of the latter, the crew simply let his excellent verse play out in tribute while Joey dived into pit and crowd surfed. Showing surprising humility and candor, Bada$$ stopped the show near the end to slap hands show his graditude. "Real Shit, it could be any of y'all up here instead of me," he said. "We gotta support each other."

Ab Soul Set List:
Only 1
Track Two
Bohemian Grove
Druggys Wit Hoes Again
The End is Near
Terrorist Threats
M.a.a.d. City
Pineal Gland

Joey Bada$$ Set List:
World Domination
Sweet Dreams
Funky Ho'$
95 Till Infinity
--With Pro Era--
Ante Up
Sup Preme
Don't Front
Word is Bond
Like Water
Survival Tactics

Critic's Bias: Missed The Underachivers, who I've heard great things about, and definitely wished I could've traded them for Chevy Woods.

The Crowd: Definitely not smoking, there was probably about 1 security guard to every 4 people in the audience and a very thorough pat-down at the door.

Random Notebook Dump: When did Ab-Soul get buff? He's going to rival Jay Rock for "Most Cut TDE Member" pretty soon.

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