By Jack M. Angelo, Senior Content Producer

As the summer slowly approaches, a small subsection of the Hip-Hop community is wondering the same thing: who will be on the 2018 XXL Freshman list?

Artists featured on previous lists have had varying degrees of success, from acts like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, who went on to sell out stadiums, to acts like Donnis and Mickey Factz, whose names generally conjure a “who?,” or at best an, “oh yeah, I remember that guy.” Despite the drop-offs, the list generally provides at least a year or two of fame to any artist on the cover, and the best use this to its fullest advantage.

The 2017 list, though slightly less divisive than XXL’s previous, still stirred a lot of controversy with both its inclusions and exclusions. Some of the less buzzed about artists, such as Kap G, Kamaiyah, and PnB Rock ended up making names for themselves through their inclusion, reaping the benefits ever since. The latter, PnB Rock, is currently on tour supporting his album Catch These Vibes, released last November, and stopped by Baltimore’s Soundstage on March 11.

PnB’s audience was comprised mostly of women, ranging anywhere from young teenagers and children, to a few middle-aged adults. The dress code for the night also seemed to disregard the freezing Baltimore-March weather, with many short skirts, low cut tops and open-high heeled shoes dominating the wardrobe choices. Baltimore was ready for the Philadelphia-based rapper and singer to take the stage, and it wasn’t playing around.

Before PnB hit the stage, however, the crowd was treated to two opening acts, beginning with rapper Cash Passion, one of PnB’s past collaborators. The California-based artist was given the opportunity to perform a few songs for the sold-out crowd, which went over fairly well, despite its short length and spotty vocal delivery.

Cash Passion opens the PnB Rock show at Baltimore’s Soundstage on March 11, 2018 (Photo by Jack M. Angelo for StayUp.News).

After Cash Passion left the stage, the audience was subjected to a 30-minute intermission before the advertised opener, Lil Baby, came to the stage. While not excessive by concert standards, the wait was exacerbated by the DJ attempting to distract the crowd with music during the lull. Before each song, he would shout, “Are y’all ready for Lil Baby?,” implying the performer was about to come out. By the fourth or fifth occurrence of this, audience members started getting visibly irritated. One of two things was happening: either the DJ was inexperienced in concert rhetoric, or, just as likely, Lil Baby was just not at the venue yet. However, once he did finally arrive, the crowd’s irritability melted away for the rest of the night.

Anyone keeping up with hip-hop music in 2018 should recognize the name Lil Baby, not only as an inevitable rap name in today’s environment, but as an artist making his own waves. Lil Baby only started rapping in 2017, but has quickly made his way up the ranks. Lil Baby’s most impressive accomplishment, however, is the crew he’s managed to team up with. The Atlanta-based rapper is signed with Quality Control, the small team that manages Migos and Lil Yachty. Pierre “Pee” Thomas and Coach K are some of the most savvy and talented movers in the industry, and this support will undoubtedly help Lil Baby reach a level of stardom generally out of reach this early in a career.

Lil Baby’s inexperience is fairly evident in his performance, however, with the artist opting to pace back and forth on the stage, occasionally doing a move that coincided with a lyric. His vocals were also played along with his instrumentals, emphasizing the massive difference between his real voice and the processed vocals laid down in the studio.

Atlanta’s Lil Baby sets the table for PnB Rock on March 11, at Baltimore’s Soundstage (Photo by Jack M. Angelo for StayUp.News).

Despite this, Lil Baby moved the crowd with a lot of infectious hooks and a little intimate crowd work. The audience came to have a good time, and Lil Baby was keeping the party going. Lil Baby will undoubtedly improve his stage show as time goes on, but he is in a good place in his career, and will likely continue to succeed with QC at the helm.

After a sub-20 minute set from Lil Baby came another short break, where a different DJ played a nearly identical playlist to the first. By this point, however, the audience was receptive, and their impatient anticipation for the headliner temporarily subsided. As soon as the first few seconds of PnB’s Ronny J-produced “3x” played, the crowd began screaming. PnB Rock jumped out onto the stage rapping his first few bars, a deafening wall of shrieks climbing to a peak, from which it would not falter.

That cellphone footage probably wasn’t authorized, but PnB moved the crowd at Baltimore’s Soundstage anyways on March 11 (Photo by Jack M. Angelo for StayUp.News).

PnB Rock continued to move the crowd with song after song, each tending to blend into the next due to both a lack of variety in PnB’s catalogue and the rapper’s desire to preserve the show’s momentum. The announcement of each new song garnered more screams of joy from the audience, especially his platinum-selling hit “Selfish,” where his own vocals were drowned out by the hundreds of audience members performing along with him. After this, PnB closed out the show with fan-favorite YFN Lucci’s “Everyday We Lit,” a song on which PnB is featured.

PnB Rock is one of the many rapper/singers operating in the mainstream right now, and at first glance, it may be difficult to spot exactly what makes him unique. Perhaps the Philly-based artist is adept at hopping on the flavor of the month, maybe he has landed on the right instrumentals and features, or maybe there is something else. Whatever it is that has PnB Rock fans excited, it’s working. Baltimore loves PnB Rock, and it seems like the rest of the country will, too.

These incredible photos from PnB Rock’s performance at Soundstage, in Baltimore, MD, on March 11, 2018, were taken by StayUp.News senior content producer and photographer Jack M. Angelo:

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