My youngest brother is six years my junior. During the years when I was out most nights either playing or attending shows, he was home building Legos on his bedroom floor; when I left for college, he was still in the first stages of intermediate school. Most of the time, our lives didn’t really overlap. That is, until I came home for a break from school and we drove together to get pizza one night.
In the car, I asked him what kind of music he was listening to. “I like music where there’s kind of a lot going on,” he responded. I thought for a second, then queued up Vince Staples’ “Yeah Right” and watched out of the corner of my eye as his jaw dropped with the beat.
The next time I came home from school, he informed me that he had been listening to Big Fish Theory nonstop. By this time, Staples had announced his co-headlining tour with Tyler, The Creator, with the New York date scheduled for my spring break.
I told my brother that if he listened to and dug Tyler’s Flower Boy, I would try my best to take him to their show when I came home. I heard the first notes of Flower Boy opening track “Foreward” drifting out of his room, and then about thirty minutes later, he came bursting into my room. “This album is f***ing awesome,” he exclaimed. “It’s a date then,” I replied.
Two months laters, my brother and I dipped out of a family dinner early to make our way to the Theater at Madison Square Garden to see two of his favorite artists on their second night in town. Upon entrance to the 5,000+ capacity venue, we were greeted by a massive line that spread across the whole concourse, fans clamoring to get their hands on the latest Golf Wang and Golf le Fleur merch. We purchased a bright orange sweatshirt that read “Save The Bees” in big text on the back, and my brother took off the sweatshirt he wore to throw it right on.
We walked into the blue haze of the black-lit theater, his new sweatshirt glowing just a little brighter than his wide smile. We got to our seats just in time: The lights went down soon thereafter, and the lighting rig on the stage sprung to life to display a countdown. When the timer struck zero, Vince Staples bounded onto the stage sporting what appeared to be a bullet-proof vest, launching into the opening notes of Big Fish Theory‘s “BagBak.” The whole floor began to shake as the crowd that had amassed in general admission began to jump in unison.
Staples’ lighting put on an incredible show in and of itself, featuring a backdrop of broken news clips between songs, and even footage of the heartbreaking Amy Winehouse interview that makes up “Alyssa Interlude.” Throughout the set, I periodically looked over at my brother to gauge his interest, and found him singing almost every word. Staples played through almost the entirety of Big Fish Theory, throwing in a few Summertime ’06 tracks toward the end of the set, before closing with “Norf Norf” and, finally, “Yeah Right.”
After Staples left the stage, during a brief intermission the stage was covered by a curtain as the massive light rig was moved to the side and Tyler’s elaborate stage setup was pushed to the forefront. Finally, after about thirty minutes, the curtain came up to reveal Tyler with his back to the crowd, standing atop… a big tree.
He remained with his back to the crowd as first notes of “Where This Flower Blooms” rung out, seeming to be listening to the growing cheers and screams, before he turned around, slowly spitting the track’s opening lines. However, when he got to the chorus, he sprinted down the length of the tree to jump around the stage as the lights flashed all around him, revealing an all-encompassing stage setup that resembled a cartoon forest. Once again, the floor began to shake violently as a mosh pit opened in general admission.
“Tonight is way better than last night,” Tyler gloated into the mic, about three songs into his set. “I was bored as hell up here last night.”
Only a few months after his late-afternoon performance debuting Flower Boy tracks at Panorama Festival this past summer, Tyler seemed much more comfortable playing his older music, dedicating a whole section of the show to a few cuts from Wolf, even going as far back as Goblin. Putting the old next to the new just showed how far Tyler has come artistically since those early records, his latest encouraging love instead of hate.
At one point, Tyler even shouted out a couple hugging, dancing to the serene notes of “See You Again.” “Oh my god, you guys are hugging to my song!” he shouted wide-eyed into the mic. “That is amazing! Thank you!” As the song went on, his eyes remained locked on the couple, serenading them as if it was just the three of them in the room of thousands.
It became quickly apparent that this latest tour is something of a victory lap for Tyler, a celebration of the much-deserved success of Flower Boy. He still sported the leopard print hairdo he debuted at the Grammys, where he was nominated for Best Rap Album, and at one point even asked the crowd if they liked the look. Naturally, he was met with raucous cheers and even a “You’re sexy!” chant.
As my baby brother and I raced from the doors of Madison Square Garden into Penn Station to get donuts from Krispy Kreme before it closed, I realized that the age gap between us had been bridged. For the first time since I left for college, we sang and danced along to the same songs. It was a powerful moment, brought about by two of hip-hop’s finest.