At some concerts, in between songs is a perfect opportunity to snap a selfie, rush to the bar to get an overpriced drink or fill your best friend in about something that simply cannot wait until the booming bass fizzles out. However, seeing Big Sean live at New York City's legendary Radio City Music Hall wasn't just some concert.
In fact, it marked the first time in my entire life at a rap show that I witnessed one determined fan go out of her way to "shhh" a loud concertgoer in the row behind her — exaggerated pointer finger pressed to her lips and all. The trio of talking, attention-stealing girls, perhaps stunned by the boldness of the urgent demand, immediately obliged and turned back toward the stage, eyes wide. After all, the Don was talking and not only that — he had something to say.
As the 29-year-old words it himself, performing in New York City for the first time in about a year's time on Tuesday (April 11), was "perfect timing" because "everything is going so f**king right in [his] life." When someone is shining from the inside out, such a positive energy is equal parts contagious and celebratory. It's almost impossible to be around someone who is in the best mood ever without letting it influence your own vibe. And ultimately, that’s a major part of the very foundation that Big Sean's joie de vivre is built upon.
Throughout his near two-hour display of undeniable talent, the rapper encouraged the crowd to leave the venue as elevated, upgraded version of themselves, sharing all sorts of motivational gems with the crowd. His sermons were organically woven into his set, reminding fans that the same way he speaks to his fans is the same way he speaks to his homies backstage. Such an authenticity is arguably Big Sean's greatest quality; something that is fundamental to not only his own success but to his eagerness to give back to others and inspire those younger than him to follow their own dreams as well. In other words, he really puts on for his city, whether that’s Detroit or whatever city he happens to be in for the night
Such a genuine generosity and natural leadership was further exemplified by his opening acts, MadeinTYO and Neisha Na’shae. Both rising talents, Sean’s hand-picked selection allowed him to fulfill the role of a proud big brother by simultaneously teaching and passing the torch to both millennial acts hungry for the spotlight and notoriety in the same fashion Kanye West previously supported him.
Neisha Na’Shae, a 20-year-old Ypsilanti native and R&B singer, kicked off the evening with her performance celebrating the fact that, before she was gracing the same stage that virtually every mainstream artist has blessed at one point or another, she was performing in high school auditoriums. Treating the audience to "On a Cloud," the single that first gained her local radio play, was a wonderful way to begin a night that Big Sean carefully designed to ensure attendees straight up felt good about themselves.
Following Neisha Na’shae’s set, MadeinTYO took over. Ringing in his 25th birthday on the same night, he used the occasion to remind the crowd he's living proof of that hard work pays off and everything you've ever wanted is directly related to how much you believe you can achieve it. Bringing out G-Eazy and 24hrs as surprise guests to perform their collaboration “Down for Me,” the "Uber Everywhere" rapper then called on the crowd to help him manifest his next goal: performing at the Grammys. This call-to-action helped further set the mood that this evening was as much about setting an intention as it was having a good time and enjoying the music.
With the lively crowd somewhat unsure on how to take in a Big Sean concert from designated theater seats, it soon became clear that Radio City Music Hall did make sense to host him after all. While a sweaty standing room layout would have been preferred by his die-hard supporters — with a noticeably large amount of people already sporting the Big Sean merch they purchased while waiting for the show to start — the city landmark accented the fact that the Detroit rapper's bread-and-butter is in his arsenal of top-tier hit singles and quality body of work. He can adapt to any venue because seeing Big Sean live is exactly that. There are no frills, no pre-recorded vocal tracks (the horror!), no unnecessary extra production and no overwhelming set design. Just one man, a microphone, a sole spotlight, a DJ, a drummer and a keyboardist. While this Tuesday night affair was hosted by a venue whose Art Deco-style adornments helped create a built-in ambiance, Big Sean took center stage and demanded not only the attention of the audience, but a level of respect that only comes after years and years of putting in work. Sean was present, and in turn, commanded the same courtesy from the sold-out crowd.
As he put a smile on damn near everyone's face who was in the 6,000-person capacity theater, he shared that his parents were in attendance, declaring that he was going to give his all during his time on stage, adding that "not everyone gets this kind of love in New York City."
Powering through material off of his fourth studio album, I Decided, including "Voices in My Head/Stick to the Plan" and "No Favors," he also revisited his older material, such as 2014's "Paradise" and the crowd-favorite G.O.O.D. Music posse cut "Mercy.” He happily warmed up the crowd before expertly slowing it down with songs like "Play No Games" and "Jump Out the Window," which created the perfect moment for none other than Jhené Aiko to make an unannounced, but beyond appreciated, entrance.
The couple complimented each other both in their appearance (donning loosely fitting white looks) and in their performance alike, transporting fans to what a TWENTY88 concert looks and feels like. With Aiko stealing the spotlight Big Sean was grateful to share, her hypnotic voice added to the feel-good magic of the night, something that was later complimented by the fact it was also the reveal of April's full moon. Together, they performed "On the Way," "Same Time, Pt. 1" and "I Know," with those in attendance eager to hang onto the utterly perfect moment for as long as possible. Before Aiko disappeared off stage, Sean offered a simple "I love you" and kissed her farewell, a gesture that was met with an explosion of applause and goosebumps for those who spent months reading articles detailing rumors of their alleged romantic relationship.
As Big Sean refocused his energy on his own material ("Halfway off the Balcony," "Owe Me" and "Moves"), in front of two massive LED screens facing each other, he moved in between being a silhouette in the shadows and taking in the full spotlight, rarely taking a moment to stand still. He then dove back into even older material, including a rendition of his Kanye West collaboration "Don't Like," his and Drake's "All Me" and the tried-and-true club anthem "Dance (A$$)." MadeinTYO also re-appeared on stage, joining the Don for a duet version of his smash hit "Skateboard P.” Following their shared moment on stage, Sean continued to drive the point home that he's all about supporting the next generation to discover their best selves and live their best lives.
"I want you to leave here an upgraded version of yourself," Sean told the crowd. "My greatest success isn't in counting more money than I ever thought I'd have...My greatest success is watching what was once in my mind appear in the palm of my hand and you too can make it happen."
As he sprinkled other words of wisdom, such as advising getting a strong team in order and tactfully mapping out goals, it became even more clear that Big Sean hasn't let his successes negatively change him in any way. Before ending the night with "Bounce Back" and "I Don't F**k With You," he took about 10 minutes to provide the audience with his own collection of major keys, all while expressing his gratitude for how his journey has unfolded thus far. In his artistry, along with the support of his growing fan base, it’s hard not to notice that he's poised to impact a movement much bigger than his music, even more so than he already has.
As the youngest person to ever be awarded the key to Detroit, Big Sean is embracing his destiny and doing so without sacrificing having a good-ass time and staying true to both himself and his life missions. As they say, what is real cannot be threatened and Big Sean just might be the realest one out.
(Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)