By Jack M. Angelo, managing editor.
The new wave of hip-hop is in full effect. It does not sound like it did in the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and only began to form within the last few years of this decade. But it’s here. Hip-hop is now the most popular genre in the world, and it’s pumping out the stars to prove it. Hip-hop has been around for long enough that there are old hip-hop heads to complain, and they often do. To be fair, what constitutes Hip-hop now often bears little to no resemblance to what it used to. You don’t even have to rap all the time, or even ever, and you can still be considered a rapper. Such complaints have certainly been lobbed at 20-year-old phenom Juice WRLD.
Born Jarad Higgins, Juice releases music that often swings hard toward a pop and r&b sound rather than straight rapping. However, his multiple lengthy freestyles at radio stations displays that he possesses a solid baseline of rap talent. According to many of his producers and even himself, many of his biggest songs are completely freestyled and finished within an hour. Call it lazy or genius, it has worked for Juice, rocketing him to fame faster than anyone saw coming last year with smash hits like “Lucid Dreams” crooned into the ears of the world seemingly out of nowhere. Juice WRLD has been capitalizing on this popularity, with nonstop releases and a tour with Ski Mask the Slump God and Lyrical Lemonade, which made a stop at The Anthem in Washington D.C. on May 17, 2019.
The approximately 5000-capacity venue sold out relatively quickly, and the surrounding Wharf area filled up early with excited fans waiting to glimpse the performance. The first opening acts varied by city, but were hosted consistently by Lyrical Lemonade. The media and music company Lyrical Lemonade deserves and has many articles dedicated to explaining their come up and inspirational business model. The short version is that years ago, a teen named Cole Bennett started shooting music videos in Chicago, continued making great work, met the right people and built an empire of creative videos, merch, a highly successful annual festival, and now tours across the country and beyond. Though certain cities got new and inspired openers like Blueface and Comethazine, D.C. was left with Shordie Shordie, a relatively unknown Baltimore native, and 2017-2018 teenage phenom Smooky MarGielaa, who came up with some work with the A$AP Mob in previous years. The tween and often even younger audience had very little interest in these opening acts, with only the members of the crowd closest to the stage even paying any attention to the openers.
A long while after the openers finished, several chants of “We Want Ski!” demanded the supposed next act, Ski Mask the Slump God. However, the DJ curiously kept asking the audience if they were ready for Juice WRLD, the headliner of the show. Of course, the audience obliged, and Juice WRLD came to the stage, throwing into doubt whether Ski Mask was going to be showing up at all. After a handful of Juice WRLD tracks, he left the stage, confusing the audience further, since his set was clearly not over. However, the questions were answered when Ski Mask’s voice came over the microphone, and he finally began his section of the show.
Ski Mask the Slump God has been making waves in the “Soundcloud rap” scene for a few years now. Beginning his career heavily associating with his at-the-time friend and one-time jail-mate, the late XXXTentacion. He made a name for himself with aggressive, distorted beats, cartoon samples, speedy Twista-like flows and some of the oddest cultural references this side of an MF Doom record. Ski took time in his set to perform a few songs by his late friend, and the audience turned the energy up further than any other point in the night during X’s “Look at Me!” Ski Mask does fall victim to the very common ailment of young rappers today, which is to play the vocals of their song during the concert, and let that do most of the performing, while Ski just kind of paced back and forth letting the music play. He did however take an opportunity to stage dive at one point. He and his DJ explained there were two rules for this, “don’t touch his [signature] du-rag, and don’t touch his chains.” The audience somehow could not handle these simple rules, and Ski actually lost one of his chains in the maneuver. After some time, a member of the audience actually found and returned the likely very expensive chain, bringing a clear sense of relief and gratitude from Ski. “I don’t think any other rapper could do that, lose his chain and get it back,” commented Ski’s DJ.
Juice WRLD came back on stage at some point during Ski Mask’s set to perform their song together “Nuketown,” a very X inspired track that sees Ski and Juice going as aggressive as possible. This may be a good indicator of the sound of the collaborative “Evil Twins” project they keep teasing. This began the second half of Juice WRLD’s set, all but confirming that this was not the planned trajectory of the show, but rather an adjustment. The odd transitions actually served to keep the momentum of the show going, instead of waiting between the two sets.
The rest of Juice WRLD’s set went as expected, with some beautiful animated visuals in the background, much of the time fulfilling the PlayStation aesthetic that runs through Juice WRLD’s latest album DeathRace for Love. The druggy, sad lyrics and emo-tinged vocal melodies spoke deeply to the kids in the audience, who screamed along to every word. Kids under the age of 10 litter the audience and sing along to popping pills and sipping lean. The mostly stamped-hand crowd bought merch instead of drinks, pulled on Juuls instead of cigarettes, and they listen to this kind of music. Sad as it may be, kids of this age and mentality are the zeitgeist, and many of them have chosen Juice WRLD as the face of this new wave.