Nipsey Hussle at Mill City Nights, 1/15/14

Photo courtesy of the artist
Nipsey Hussle
with Erk the Jerk, Tomorrow Genius, and MN Flame
Mill City Nights, Minneapolis
Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Another former major label artist now working as an independent, Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle brings a classic West Coast gangster rap mindset to a new era of sounds. After a string of Bullets Ain't Got No Name mixtapes released for free, Nipsey Hussle switched gears for his latest release Crenshaw with a Proud to Pay campaign, pricing it at $100 a copy. They've since sold out, after Jay Z bought 100 copies and fans scooped up the rest. The statement about art's worth only works if the product is good, as Nipsey Hussle's performance last night proved to be.

The first performer, a Southside representative by the name of MN Flame, warmed up a slowly building crowd with some braggy raps over backtracks. The closer the material veered into French Montana territory the better, as the audience got into the harder beats and hook-centric vocals. Some of his verses hit but his set didn't really gain steam until the tail-end.

Tomorrow Genius followed and began his set with a moment of silence for deceased MInneapolis rapper Fly Henderson, and afterwards placed a flag with Fly's &= symbol behind him. His opening accapella was impressive enough and a change of pace to hear someone hit every word, but it went on a bit long. The Northside rapper had a vibrant confidence that made the money-getting rhyme tropes work but the DJ frequently skipped the beat and threw off the momentum of the set. His being able to hold down a capella verses when needed and recapture the audience even in moments of dead air salvaged what might have been worse.

The Bay area's Erk the Jerk was a pleasant surprise, with a unique sensibility for never-love-'em sex joints. Songs played with abstract lyricism in a way rarely found in booty-focused rhymes, and it was a refreshing performance in the midst of the night. The bass-heavy beats and West Coast flow was a good introduction to Nipsey's set, and the crowd had gotten pretty thick. Energy was amping up in the place and Erk worked the stage with a mellow control of his material, which seemed fresh to most people's ears. 

Nipsey Hussle took stage shortly afterwards to the tune of "All Get Right," the verse of which became an empowering chant when repeated by the audience. With a low-key swagger and a menacing flow that lurked underneath otherwise uplifting struggle music, Nipsey commanded the stage and ran through a number of his new material from Crenshaw. In the background were large banners featuring black-and-white photos of Nipsey's neighborhood, and seeing the block being referenced in the rhymes immediately in the background added an strong extra flourish.

A pair of backing rappers occasionally jumped on tracks to fill in whole verses, but mostly filled in the latter portion of Nipsey's lines. The beats and themes were varied, especially when Nipsy began to dip into older material from The Marathon, after which the crowd really picked up. At multiple points Nipsey asked different sections who was the most turned up. 

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