by Jacob DeSmit
Because of the infatuation that many of today’s rappers have with releasing mixtapes rather than studio albums, it can be hard to judge just how much a hip-hop artist has done by looking solely at his or her track record with a major label. Such is the case for Pittsburgh native Mac Miller, who, despite dropping just his second studio album last June, has closer to nine releases when mixtapes are taken into account. Based on Miller’s set at House of Blues last night, his fans know his entire catalogue and sang along with nearly every tune. Along with openers Earl Sweatshirt, Chance the Rapper, and — to a lesser extent — The Internet, Miller rocked the stage and gave the young crowd its money’s worth.
Once the curtain lifted and Miller arrived on stage, deafening screams instantly cut out all of the background sounds of the venue. Bright purple and blue lights blinded the hysterical crowd and lit the stage like a runway for Miller, who basked in the incessant cheering for a moment before taking off, fittingly, into “Loud.” It’s not uncommon for the skunky scent of weed to fill the air from the general admissions area at a hip-hop show, but on this occasion, a lit blunt could be seen between the fingers of Miller’s hype man as the two started the show. “Mac Miller came in such a nice kid…people always ask what the fuck happened,” the headliner mused, referring to himself in the third person before answering the question at hand with the heavy “It must be the drugs” chorus of “Red Dot Music.” Miller wasn’t afraid to show off his dorky side with tour buddy Earl Sweatshirt — the two hid behind stage equipment and talked to the crowd in funny voices before performing "O.K.," the fun bonus track from Watching Movies with the Sound Off. Miller’s stage presence was much more lighthearted than the two rappers that had graced the Scene stage prior, which made for a more positive and fun atmosphere throughout a majority of his set. That being said, a more somber mood mellowed out the venue when he performed “Remember,” an ode to one of the rapper’s fallen friends. On this and a few other songs, Miller adequately soloed a pentatonic scale on an emerald green Fender Telecaster to live music from members of The Internet. The guitar playing wasn’t his forte, and he had to restart the fingerpicked intro to “Best Day Ever.” Even so, the artist’s penchant to show off his skills on other instruments — he would also take a stab at playing drum and keyboard solos — made for a more interesting show.
Things started to feel drawn out towards the end of his hour and 40 minute set, with a few of the youngest members in the crowd looking sleepy eyed as the clock neared midnight. But it was easy to gauge how most in the audience felt about the night as a whole, as the crowd woke up with ear-splitting squeals as Miller performed his most popular song, “Donald Trump,” last. Donning a replica of the jersey Shawn Kemp wore as a Cavalier, the hip-hop star dropped the mic at the end the hit song and walked off stage to the same roaring applause that had greeted him.
With the release of his debut major label album, Doris, later this year, Earl Sweatshirt should strengthen his case as one of the best West Coast rappers in the game. The most intriguing thing about Earl, and the other artists he collaborates with as part of rap collective Odd Future, is his norm-challenging rhymes, which are typically both offensive and thoughtful as he rattles them off as slowly as molasses. Appropriately — at least in all respects besides the song’s hook, “I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch” — Earl debuted one of his latest tracks, “Molasses,” early in his set. The rapper stopped the show immediately after, motioning for his DJ to blast the 2003 Kelis smash “Milkshake” as Miller joined him on stage for a strobe light dance party. This early glimpse of Miller set the crowd off, and the moment was one of the most fun of the night. Though Earl performed all of the singles from Doris, he pleased fans as he mixed in a few of his older songs, too. His half hour set ended with “Drop,” a booming track from his earliest self-released self-titled album that set the tone for Miller as he waited his turn stage left.
Aside from opening band The Internet, Chance the Rapper has had the least mainstream exposure among all of those involved in the night’s show. Despite this, those in the crowd seemed to know most of the songs on the rapper’s latest mixtape, Acidrap, singing hooks like, “I burned too many brain cells down/to be worried bout my brain cells now,” with the rapper as he danced across the stage. Even if his songs weren’t as memorable as those that would follow from Mac and Earl, those nearest the stage will probably remember him as the guy that doused them with water from a super soaker and a few odd water bottles before ending his half-hour set with the intense “Fuck You Tahm Bout.”
The Internet — DJ/singer Syd the Kyd and producer Matt Martians of Odd Future — was joined by a bassist, drummer, and keyboardist that helped round out the sound. With her boyish, short fro-hawk and skinny frame, it wasn’t completely obvious that Syd was a woman. Her voice was soft and soulful nonetheless as she led the band through a 20-minute set of six songs that sounded more R & B than hip-hop and an interesting contrast to the rest of the night.