All that was known heading in was that it was a hip-hop / rap performance with rumors swirling that it could be The Weeknd, Missy Elliott, or Nicki Minaj. By the time 10:30 pm rolled around, nobody in the crowd near me was 100 percent sure. Once the pink lights started hitting the stage, people came around to the idea that it was going to be Nicki Minaj. It was confirmed moments later when she walked out on stage, rapping the opening verse of “Superbass” to the heavy excitement of the crowd.
Nicki Minaj is one of the most talented rappers in the game right now, regardless of gender. Though she relied on backing tracks for the singing portions of many of her songs, her hour-long set was a reminder of just how many bangers she has to her credit in such a short career as a solo artist. It’s crazy to think it’s only been six years since I first heard her singing on the Young Money track “BedRock” and now she’s as successful as any of Young Money’s original clan – Drake and Lil’ Wayne included.
Nicki brought a ton of charisma to the stage and was wearing quite a revealing outfit that had men and ladies alike shouting in approval. Minaj clearly relished the attention, teasing to the crowd she was going to give someone a lapdance (she didn’t), smacking the side of her gravity-defying derriere when referencing it countless times in her raps.
With nobody knowing who was going to perform until she took the stage, it’s a testament to Nicki Minaj’s star power that nearly everyone in the crowd knew all the words to 80 percent of her set. Songs like “Truffle Butter” and “Beez in the Trap” received the loudest singalongs and Minaj was genuinely blown away by how into her set people were given the circumstances.
Was it the most amazing performance I’ve ever seen? Far from it. But seeing someone like Nikki Minaj in a 600-capacity venue is what Red Bull Sound Select has been doing all November the past two years. It’s one of the things I looked most forward to after last year’s stretch that allowed me to see Courtney Barnett, The Preatures and The Head and the Heart in huge underplays. They ramped it up this year with sets from Grimes, Sylvan Esso and Chromeo, among others. All for $15 or less.
The whole point of this all was the artist discovery element. They rewarded people for arriving early — providing free Uber codes, food, posters, and other awesome items. For Nicki’s show, the opener was Jazz Cartier, a Canadian rapper with some colorful old-school Coolio dreads.
While not my personal taste (he kind of had a poor man’s DMX vibe to him), other people in the crowd seemed really down with Jazz Cartier’s set. That is, until he smacktalked the Lakers (which IU actually enjoyed). People booed him as if they’ve watched more than three collective quarters of terrible Lakers basketball this year, but he won them back over when he went into the crowd and crowdsurfed while rapping his final track. He can book this as an early-career victory opening for NIcki Minaj.
Red Bull Sound Select can’t possibly be making money on these #30DaysInLA shows they’ve done the past few years. That’s sort of the beauty. They’re obviously putting something INTO music without really looking to take much out of it. They seem like the perfect kind of company to work for if you’re passionate about music and the branding isn’t so much that it makes you feel like you’re at some corporate event. If I had one complaint, it would be that sets sometimes begin too late into the night. I’m not a normal human being when it comes to live concerts and even I had a hard time with some of the 11:20 PM start times for headliners. But I get it.
One thing is for certain: people will be talking about what Red Bull did with this year’s 30 Days and it will be that much more anticipated when it rolls around again next year.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Images via Red Bull Sound Select