It’s really remarkable that a city the size of Asheville so frequently welcomes legends and luminaries from across the music world, but, despite the mountain of major-market talent that swings through W.N.C., appearances by rap royalty are still very, very special.
That was definitely the case on Friday night, when the Orange Peel played host to one half of Atlanta’s most celebrated rap duo. Blowing through an all-to-quick 90-minute set that included as many of Outkast’s hits as it did his own, Big Boi put on a performance that just didn’t stop. Well, until it stopped.
Backed by a monster live band and tireless hype-man BlackOwned C-Bone, Big Boi gave us a whale of a show that barely left room for a breath, much less a break. Dipping in and out of tracks from 2012’s Dangerous Lies & Vicious Rumors, the diminutive rapper reminded us that Outkast’s apparent hiatus hasn’t slowed him down a bit.
That said, most of the set’s highlights came in the form of truncated renditions of the band’s ridiculous catalog of singles. Bumping sing-a-long choruses from “B.O.B.”, “Ms. Jackson”, “Rosa Parks”, “So Fresh, So Clean” and just about every other chart-topper he helped co-produced, Big Boi kept a sellout crowd in the palm of his hand like few other artists I’ve ever seen. From start to finish, everything was so effortless and powerful that it was easy to see why he’s been considered one of the greatest MCs of all time for so long (Let me back that up real quick: ATLiens came out almost 20 years ago! Dude’s going to start popping up on oldies stations soon).
As incredible as Big Boi was, he wasn’t the night’s only standout. The show kicked off with an all-to-brief (three songs!) set by Memphis rapper, Renegade El Rey. Renegade had outrageous energy, and did an incredible job hyping the room with a teaser block of super-bass heavy tracks and stomach tattoo-able hooks. Really, the Bluff City beatsmith was such an effective opener that, had Killer Mike come on right after, the show would have been one of the most perfectly orchestrated nights of music I’d ever attended. Unfortunately, things took a strange (and thankfully brief) diversion right after.
In a different context, Atlanta-based indie soul unit, Fishhawk, would have likely been a really intriguing watch. However, the band’s spacey pop sloughed a good bit of the energy Renegade had pumped into the room. I get the idea — Atlanta’s music scene has a lot more to offer than just hip hop — but Fishhawk’s addition to this show (and entire tour, apparently) seems like a strange way to show it.
Again, the band was good; in fact, there was something about Fishhawk’s hooks that kind of fell in line with those wild OutKast choruses, but on the whole, they proved a curious addition to an otherwise tremendous show. (Alright, one gripe: the band’s singer must have shouted Fishhawk upwards of thirty times throughout the six or seven song set — maybe a little much).
The final opener was Atlanta stalwart Killer Mike. Full disclosure, I’m a huge fan of Mike’s, and I’m going to use this as an opportunity to get a little gushy. Simply put: Killer Mike was unbelievable. He walked out on stage with no band and no hype-man — just his DJ and 12,000 liters of fog (never seen another rapper do this) — greeted us with a huge smile, and jumped right into “Big Beast”, the thundering EL-P produced opener to his latest album, R.A.P. Music.
The big man was celebrating his birthday, and genuinely looked like there was no place he’d rather be. He took every opportunity to thank the room for their and support, thank Big Boi for helping start his career, and fire up the crowd even further with a series of FCC-unfriendly chants. Somehow, the dude with the meanest record of last year looked like the happiest person in the room, beaming with a jubilance that really seemed to capture just how stoked we all were to be there. It was an outstanding night.
Can't see the slideshow? Click here.