When I decided to take a group of preteens to a rap concert at a bar that’s outfitted with bowling alleys tucked away in the crevice of the Las Vegas strip, I didn’t anticipate just how many “WTF” faces and actual verbalizations of that phrase our group would be met with by drunk and astounded concertgoers. It was the hilarious result of the scene I created, bringing four actual children to mingle among the grown ups, the kids bopping to their favorite vulgar and explicit songs from 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert and — when he finally hit the stage at Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas on Wednesday night — Playboi Carti.
To me, it made sense to take a few kids to the Carti show, after all, the Atlanta native and ASAP Mop representative is just 20 years old himself, and though the venue is full of the typical mid-20s crowd of dad hats, skinny jeans and oversized t-shirts you see at any rap show these days, it was actually perfect for the four kids. That night meant everything to my son, his friend and my two younger brothers, and it was everything they wanted: Loud music, a raucous crowd, space to dance, and one of their favorite artists in the same room as them — even if they were way too short to actually see him over the crowd of adults in front of them.
The first lesson of the night for the little guys was the art of the opening act. Look, opening up a show is mostly thankless work, it’s tough and it’s a necessary part of artist development that must be done as they cut their teeth and work their way up the ladder, but that doesn’t mean we always have to enjoy it. At the Carti show, the kids learned the tough lesson that openers are rarely enjoyable, and even though the right performer would use that platform to steal the crowd and gain a few new fans, most of Carti’s openers left much to be desired.
Gunna, a signee to Young Thug’s YSL label did gain the favor of the crowd throughout his 20 minute set, as he utilized a bit of crowd participation and matched the energy of the eager crowd with plenty of his own. But after him, Young Nudy’s time slot mostly consisted of his DJ yelling “whoa” his hypeman screaming out commands and Nudy pacing the stage. Eventually they’d all yell out his verses over his backing tracks, and while his songs sounded like they might actually be bangers in the car during the right ride when you’re in the right mood, his performance was so muted that the crowd’s response was came in kind. A 21 Savage verse from one of his songs woke the room up for a moment, but the screaming commenced immediately after that, bringing the status quo glumness back. At one point, during another 21 Savage verse, Nudy even pulled his phone out to check his texts and scroll through his Twitter timeline or something (?) But finally, it was over and the wait for Carti began.
The best part about Brooklyn Bowl is the venue bounces, quite literally, when the crowd is amped enough. It’s like a bounce house is underneath the whole building and they don’t want us to know, it’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time. The bounce is reserved for only the most turnt moments of the night, like when Nudy’s DJ dropped Lil Yachty’s “Minnesota” and of course just about everything Carti did.
He finally hit the stage right before 10:30 PM — early for a rap show — to the soothing sounds of “Location,” the opener off his latest, self-titled LP. Carti is lanky and taller than he appears online, and he prances around the stage gleefully, simply enjoying his music more than anybody else in the world, even the crowd that is losing their sh*t to it every second of his performance. He’s up there having the time of his life and it’s infectious — the crowd matched his bounce all night.
With just one project in his discography, the setlist was fairly predictable, and with how one note Playboi Carti can be, the rhythm of the night had a comfortable stasis. When it was time for his hit “Magnolia,” just three songs into the set, Carti jumped on the DJ table, and thankfully his security was there to hold it up because it looked like it was ready to give at any moment. This was exactly what the kids had been waiting for as they went through their own series of rhythmic leaps into the air and random Milly Rocks just as Carti commanded.
One of the most common criticisms of the new era of rappers is that there is no substance to the music, and that may be true, but attending a concert with a ten-year-old, two eleven-year-olds and a thirteen-year-old put on full display just how meaningless a criticism like that is to them. They wanted energy, and that’s what they got for the length of Carti’s hour-long set: Music that sounded good and packed plenty of exuberance even if it wasn’t necessarily “deep.” But that’s the point, when you’re ten, nothing is inherently “deep” anyway, all my brother does is play Xbox and eat Takis all day, this is perfect for him, even if it’s not for someone my age.
So they jumped around for the entire set, and especially enjoyed the moment when Carti took a step back and danced around with the rest of the room as the DJ spun bangers from his affiliates like ASAP Rocky’s “Flacko Jodye” and 21 Savage’s “Bank Account” (the latter was played at least a half-dozen times throughout the night and bounced the room — literally — every single time). Eventually, Carti worked his way to a section on the side of the crowd, where the bowling alleys are flanked by VIP booths and found his way onto a barrier, and performed from there. “F*ck the stage,” he announced as he began gradually making his way down the barrier, finally settling into a spot as far from the stage as he could get on the barrier.
After a while, he switched positions again, lobbying the crowd to open up a lane for him to walk across, until he settled onto a pillar in the opposite corner. It was clear the performance was reaching its climax, and it was perfect timing and positioning for the kids, as this was the corner they’d picked to watch the show from. Now, even with as short as they were, Carti was within arms length and so close even they could see him.
From there he wrapped the night up, with one of the kid’s favorites, Lil Uzi Vert’s “Of Course We Ghetto Flowers” and few of his older tracks like “Broke Boi.”
Eventually, the youngest boy tapped out, a result of pure exhaustion from all of the jumping around and probably his desire to get back to his Xbox as soon as possible. So, we stepped out early, just as Carti was set to launch his encore of “Magnolia,” and waited for the other three, as they Milly Rocked and bounced off each other one last time. Finally they emerged, and off we went. There, in the shadow of the famous High Roller ferris wheel, I asked the kids “What was your favorite part?” After a bunch of the typical childlike, blank and confused stares as they fought back the shrugs that are always a twitch away for just about every kid, my son’s friend offered the most concise and accurate answer they could muster up: