The responsibilities that come with being a brother — even one 20 years the senior — are vastly different from my experiences as a father, uncle and any other role in my life where I’m expected to be the adult caring for a child, setting an example and being sensible and mature. As a brother, I’m allowed to be a peer, to overlook some misbehavior and maybe even encourage it. As a brother, I get to be one of the guys, snickering at all things immature, crude, silly and mischievous. I get to keep secrets, indulge in acts I should probably think better of, and hide mischief.
It’s that relationship that led me to San Francisco on a rainy, but oddly warm Friday night to see Young Thug and 21 Savage at The Warfield, in a night that became a family affair and a chance for bonding with my sibling that I rarely get to have anymore.
Initially the idea was that my 10-year-old son would accompany me to see his two favorite artist not named Lil Uzi Vert in concert. Cloaked in the excuse that is “work” I presented the idea to his mother, and after plenty of deliberation, it was decided -– rightfully so, I must add –- that a rap concert on a Friday night was no place for a 5th grader. The cloud of weed smoke that encompasses every show I go to was a deterrent, as was the mere concept of our not-yet-a-preteen out partaking in adult behavior among actual adults. So in an effort to maintain some semblance of his childhood, and to keep our baby a baby for as long as possible, we decided against it, much to his dismay. Boy was he pissed.
But my brother? The one with the new voice and the slightest remnants of a mustache protruding out of his upper lip? Well if he got permission from my grandma and dad he was good to go, and lo and behold, Friday afternoon I received the phone call that allowed little Carlos to hang with big bro and enjoy a night in Frisco with Thug and 21.
See, in my family I’m the oldest, the responsible one with a neat job who makes my Lita smile and my dad proud. So a night out with me? Even despite everything they’d imagine happens at rap concerts? Well that was fine with them because “Baby Eddie” — as they call me — would never let anything happen to their baby.
So off we went, my 12-year-old brother, my 16-year-old brother and I, to the city, for a night of the unknown. It was Carlos’ first concert, and he had no idea what he was in for. He didn’t bother to charge his phone, but quietly, and without announcing it, he dressed to the nines, wore his newest and most expensive shoes and he might have even showered. You never know with little boys.
What must be understood about Carlos is he’s exactly like every other pubescent 12-year-old: He thinks he’s too cool for everything. He’s quiet, awkward even though he doesn’t realize it and barely registers emotion, struggling to smile in pictures and never really letting loose, even when he’s with his brothers.
Surely he thinks my 16-year-old brother is cool, with his girlfriend who has a car, and his expensive shoes and spot on the high school basketball team. But I’m not so sure what he thinks of me, since he’s always so guarded. Maybe I’m the cool older brother too, the guy who listens to all the dope music and knows a lot about basketball. Or maybe I’m the 31-year-old dad trying too hard, who doesn’t quite fit in with a younger crowd no matter how much Nike Tech Fit I buy, or how many pairs of Yeezys and LeBrons I rock. I don’t know, but perspective is everything in life.
So, yeah, we weren’t able to loosen him up on the way or for the first hour at The Warfield while reggae quietly played through the house speakers. He mostly stood there silently, probably the youngest person in the building at his very first concert. Some jostling from a woman in high waisted shorts on a date with her boyfriend eventually forced a smile out of him, but even with that prodding, he wouldn’t wade his way to the front of the stage. Instead, he bided his time with us, a few sections back in the general admission lower section of the venue, an area oddly broken up into segments clearly meant to house seats, separated by what should be aisles, but instead was just lines of tape on the floor. Despite our urging him to the front, I knew we had the best seats in the house, insulated enough to not have to be bothered by the capacity crowd of over two thousand, but with a perfect view of the madness that awaited us, and still surrounded by enough people to be fully immersed in the energy of the night.
Unfortunately, the most electric part of 21’s performance was the metallic lettering on his Balmain T-shirt. He relied on four hypemen, the crowd, and a remarkably energetic DJ to handle most of the heavy lifting. Throughout every song, 21 leaned on the old reliable trick of tossing water onto the crowd to amp them up and get easy reactions. Often he’d stand still, watching the show as if he were an especially unimpressed member of the crowd, even sitting down on speakers several times enjoying the view.
Young Savage why you trappin so hard? pic.twitter.com/pn8hjSRiIg
— Boogie Bousins (@bansky) December 11, 2016
That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. The crowd was raucous, and the chanty nature of his tracks makes them ripe for participation, but the 24-year-old clearly needs to work some on his live show. He has time, and surely will find some comfort on stage as he racks up shows and experience. With a platinum single in tow, the future is bright for 21, he’s just a ways away from truly fulfilling his potential, and just a few mixtapes into his career that’s perfectly fine.
In the end, the night truly belonged to the headliner, as Thug continued to evolve and enhance his live performance. The moment he hit the stage with the Jeffery opener “Wyclef Jean” he flexed his might, sashaying around the stage and interacting with the crowd all night. His 90-minute set included three costume changes, each one less extravagant than the one before it, eventually ending the night in a simple black v-neck and ripped black jeans.
But what Thug lacked in ostentatious outfits he made up for with a vibrant and animated performance, and true mastery of his catalog. While the costume changes led to slightly disjointed DJ sets for TM88, who played all the hits we wanted to hear, like Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” and Migos’ “Bad And Boujee,” it also allowed the crowd time to soak in the spectacle of the night. The DJ sets peaked when TM88 went to the simple, but 100 percent effective Bay Area cheat code that is any Mac Dre song ever. The choice of the night was “Feelin’ Myself” and despite their appreciation for Thug and 21, the building was never louder than when they all shouted in unison “And I treat my b*tch like a ATM card,” along with The Furly Ghost.
For Thugger, obviously energetic bangers like Slime Season 3‘s “Memo” and “With Them,” or older cuts like “Danny Glover” and Barter 6‘s “Check” were easy, low hanging fruit designed specifically to make the crowd bounce rhythmically and scream their loudest.
While performing most of Jeffery material, Young Thug seemed to shock the audience with his sheer exuberance. “RiRi,” the squawking, squealing love song that delivers sounds akin to a seal made for an exhilarating experience, as Thug left the “err err err err erk” to the crowd and simply basked in the bliss. “Swizz Beats” was a chance for 2,250 people to chant the word “Love” in unison, and made for an especially radiant moment. Then, of course, there was his raucous performance of “Harambe,” which for me, solidified the track’s spot as 2016’s best song.
The night ended as all Young Thug shows do, with a lively performance of his biggest solo hit to date, “Best Friend.” It was there he showed off the newest trick in his on-stage arsenal: A brave, and dangerous stage dive.
When he was finally carried out of the crowd and back to the stage, Thug slumped into security’s arms, feigning injury, before Hitting Dem Folks, perfectly on beat to the crowd’s delight. With each tour, Thugger continues to expand his on-stage repertoire, seeming more comfortable each time. As the crowds and venues get bigger each trip through town, the only mountain left for him to conquer at this point is the eventual jump to arenas. To do that, he’ll have to continue racking up hits and critical acclaim, but at the rate he’s going, he’s not far off. There’s a reason he landed so high on our best rap albums of the year list.
Eventually Carlos let loose, thanks mostly to Young Thug, Drake’s “Fake Love” and especially Lil Uzi Vert’s “Do What I Want.” He bounced around, Hit Dem Folks, dabbed, crashed into me and anybody else around us, and finally engaged in alls sorts of other boisterous, impulsive reactions to the mayhem in front of him. On the way out the venue, we were welcomed with a slight sprinkle, and the general fogginess that is the Mission District on a Friday night. The streets were overly populated, the traffic was thicker than it had any reason being, the curse words were loud and abundant and the pizza we devoured was greasy. Finally, Carlos came out with his most vocal reaction to the night, blurting out the kind of thing he could only say around his brother, his peer, and not an overbearing, adult in charge. With a nervous, gleeful laugh, he blurted out “that was lit as f*ck,” and then quickly returned to his stasis of awkwardness. The 16-year-old agreed, and their night was officially made. One for the books for sure.
On the way home, I quizzed him about music, his favorite rappers, who else he’d like to see in concert. In his true, pre-teen awkwardness he mostly answered with a series of “I Don’t Knows” and mumbled, short responses I could barely understand. It was a rookie mistake, because little did he know, I was planning our next night out on the town. But alas, 90-minutes in the car, after midnight and all of that pandemonium was more than his little body could handle, and his night ended much earlier than mine.
Admittedly, I haven’t always been the best brother. I’m not the most consistent presence in their lives, busy with my own kids and rarely able to find the free time to truly devote energy to them like I wish I could. Randomly, in that forthright way that only kids and drunk people sometimes speak, they will remind me just how significant I am to them. Be it a spontaneously, profound conversation where one reveals that I’m their “role model,” or a sudden phone call where another pleads with me to come to their basketball game the next day and offer some in-game instruction, or something as simple as an extra tight hug when I went for a handshake at Thanksgiving. In a family that doesn’t exchange “I Love Yous” often, those moments are the “I Love Yous,” and whether they know it or not, I do cherish them.
What they don’t get, mostly because they’re too young and inexperienced with life to understand, is that rainy and unseasonably warm Friday night in San Francisco was the exact, cathartic experience that I needed, too. Being an adult can be just as murky as being a kid, and the holidays are especially stressful — I’m not immune to any of that either. In my time of need the concert with my brothers came as a pick-me-up, and a reason to celebrate the holiday. As much as I was taking them out to enjoy a concert, they were taking me out to enjoy life. So that’s what I got, a night with my little brothers where they had the experience of a lifetime, one that they’ll hopefully remember forever, and one that I certainly will.
When you reach a certain point in life, joy isn’t necessarily something you experience for yourself, but something you relish more when you watch your loved ones experience it. This was the purest form of that kind of vicarious joy, and the first time in a long while I was able to experience it with them, especially Carlos who somehow always seems to be a tad more neglected than my other siblings. He’s not the baby, he’s not the teenager in peril, he’s not closer to my age where we can experience and discuss adulthood and take our children on play dates. He’s stuck, right there in no-man’s land, an awkward almost-teenager, with a chasm between he and his big brother, a gap that has hopefully been narrowed by Friday night.
Check out more photos from Young Thug and 21 Savage’s HiHorse’d Tour stop in San Francisco below, courtesy of photographer Abe Coloma.