On the bone-chilling night of Feb. 3, Isaiah Rashad, the TDE-affiliated rapper Kendrick Lamar once described as“raw talent,” sauntered onto the stage at Beckham Hall for one of the highest profile University concerts in recent memory. A crowd that had originally snaked around the entrance to Beckham (trying to dodge another debacle like last semester’s Noname show, where over a hundred students were left waiting outside Malcolm X House) had thinned out considerably since the doors opened at 10 p.m.
Rashad, a rapper at times both disconnected and personable, didn’t seem to notice. Lost in his own haze, the 25 year-old from Chattanooga, Tenn., maneuvered around the stage with a hoarse voice and a workmanlike quality. He wore silver Adidas sweats, a black t-shirt, and a Wesleyan hat. He began by performing a string of songs from his well received 2014 debut “Cilvia Demo,” and formed a playful intimacy with the crowd as the show unfurled.
One of the concert’s main organizers, Meghana Kandlur ’18, raved about Rashad’s tight-knit crew.
“Rashad exudes charisma, both on and off the stage,” Kandlur said in a Facebook message. “It’s rare and heartwarming to see an artist whose touring entourage entirely comprises [sic] individuals who had a hand in the album’s conception—from the soft-spoken D. Sanders (producer of a number of Rashad’s tracks) who manned the merch table to the animated Chris Calor (Rashad’s longtime touring DJ who has also done production on both Cilvia Demo and his follow-up, The Sun’s Tirade). The experience solidified my utmost respect for Rashad and his team as artists and people; he deserves every ounce of praise and every glowing review that has been bestowed upon him.”
Jahmir, an artist from Brooklyn who layered dense rhymes about topics ranging from high school to police brutality over jazzy production, opened for Rashad. He was backed by a live band featuring a coterie of University students, including Becket Cerny ’19 (drums), Henry Hodder ’20 (guitar), Johnnie Gilmore ’18 (bass), and Daphne Gampel ’19 (vocals). Jahmir opened with some words about our current political moment.
“I want you to put two fingers in the sky right now for anyone threatened by the presidency, people affected by police brutality, by transphobia, and homophobia,” said Jahmir.
Rashad’s fellow label mate Lance Skiiiwalker was also supposed to perform, but a last minute cancellation moved Harlem based rapper S’natra up to the top of the opening bill.
Rashad’s wistfully personal style and smoky production makes for textbook riding music, but it was unclear how it would play for an eager yet anxious crowd that came alive mainly between sets when the house DJ played tracks like Migos’ “T-Shirt,” which possesses a decidedly different oeuvre than Rashad’s. By contrast, on songs like “Free Lunch,” Rashad is a master of showing and not telling: “the trunk was full, the ride was long, the cop was cool, we smoked in peace.”
When Rashad finally took the stage at midnight, Beckham Hall was only half filled, but the remaining students engaged with the rapper like diehard fans. During popular singles like “Free Lunch” and “Nelly” from the debut album Rashad released last year, The Sun’s Tirade, a contingency of students matched the rapper bar for bar. Visibly impressed by the crowd’s enthusiasm, Rashad joked several times about deviating from his set list and began taking requests from students in the audience. After playing a new song, the rapper and his DJ threw on Kendrick Lamar’s “M.a.a.D City,” and looked on as the crowed began to mosh.
One notable exchange came after Rashad began to question a fan named Jake, who kept calling out for songs, about his musical sensibility.
“Hey, what’s your name…?” Rashad said. “Okay, Jake. Do you play guitar?”
Jake shook his head.
“Really?” Rashad said.“Because every Jake I know knows how to play the guitar.”
The highlight of the show was undoubtedly the concert closer, “I Shot You Down.” The song that introduced Rashad to the world is still his hungriest and most potent piece. Bobbing and weaving around a stage he had performed on for more than an hour, Rashad began dapping people in the audience throughout the sing-along that ensued during the chorus.
In the past, high profile shows at Beckham have ended in disaster. Wesleying’s write-up about the Cam’ron debacle of 2014 reads like a how-not-to throw a concert manual. Despite a mid-show microphone switch and some minor sound issues in the opening number, Concert Committee organizers were able to avoid catastrophe this time. Kandlur believes there are many external variables that make booking a high profile show in Beckham complicated. She explained how the organizers have learned from previous performances.
“The show had been in the works since mid-October so I think ultimately it came down to planning early,” Kandlur said. “I collaborated extensively with SALD Director Joanne Rafferty, and we made sure no stone was left unturned because I always would have rather been over prepared than underprepared. I also think that the Cam’ron show was made more complicated by the fact that tickets were sold but no physical voucher was provided, which we avoided because I always intended for the show to be free and didn’t want to sell tickets regardless.”
University students appreciated the intimate venue, since a more impersonal setting may have precluded Rashad from deviating from his set list.
“It was such a cool environment to see him in,” said Clara Siegmund ’18. “It was a relatively small venue, and managed to feel intimate and not too crowded.”
Rashad seemed to concur. On his twitter account late that night, he offered an emoji-filled thank you.