The path to rap stardom has changed considerably. There was a time when a rapper's success was directly correlated to how much fear he could strike into the heart of the typical suburban listener. But in an arc that basically mirrors Snoop Dogg's career, it now tends to be based on how fun you would be to hang out with. These two approaches were on display Sunday night at U Street Music Hall as a pair of emerging rappers, Big K.R.I.T. and Freddie Gibbs, delivered altogether different sets.
Headliner K.R.I.T. has no single defining characteristic but has pieced together an agreeable personality that instantly won over the members of the sold-out crowd. The 24-year-old Mississippi native is something of a production whiz, crafting the slow-burn beats that serve as the foundation for his recent breakout mixtape "ReturnOf4Eva." He's clearly done his Southern rap homework, as plenty of echoes of OutKast (particularly the group's famous "forever ever" refrain from "Ms. Jackson") and fellow Rebel Stater David Banner rang throughout his set. "Rotation" played out like a less frenzied version of any number of Banner's odes to pimped-out rides. "Country [Expletive]" went over so well that the downtown D.C. crowd for some reason erupted into heavy cheers when K.R.I.T. asked how many country folk were in the venue.
On stage, K.R.I.T. is still in the developmental stage. He's a passable if not particularly charismatic rapper and was frequently drowned out by his own hypeman. When local neo-soul man Raheem DeVaughn appeared mid-set for a two-song interlude it was like watching a seasoned pro show a thing or two to his apprentice. But K.R.I.T. has learned something from past and future tourmate Wiz Khalifa -- make 'em like you, and you've got it made. Wide smiles, moments of humility and some hand-raising choruses -- it's really not that complicated.
(The no-frills thrills of Freddie Gibbs, after the jump.)
There were no friendly callouts during Gibbs's all-business 25-minute set. Not surprising, since a line on his new single "Scottie Pippen" hears him scowl, "I'm trying to make a million dollars / [Expletive] a million downloads." One of the few callouts that Gibbs made was to reprimand a couple up front that was "tongue kissing" as he was rapping. "I'm trying to do some gangsta [expletive] up here," he growled.
Gibbs is an authentic throwback -- a gangsta rapper whose violent tales actually ring true. Still, the only real positive reaction he got from the audience is when he asked how many in the building enjoyed smoking weed. He seemed unsurprised and just a bit dejected at the obvious esponse, but powered on with more fiercely and precisely delivered ines. The best song was one called "National Anthem," which has the parenthetical title of "([Expletive] the World)." Hardcore, but not necessarily the way to make hip-hop friends in 2011.