A Young Thug and Machine Gun Kelly doubleheader, Wednesday night in Independence
Though it has spawned a few potent singles (“The London” and “Hot”), the fan consensus is that Young Thug’s latest album, So Much Fun, is not his greatest work. Yet, due to the timing of its release date (on a week when there were no other major records to compete with), the success of Thug’s musical progeny and collaborators (Gunna, Lil Baby), and perhaps some gaming of streaming services (more songs equals bigger streaming numbers, and there’s 19 on Thug’s latest), So Much Fun is the enigmatic Atlanta rapper’s first number one album.
Thug returned to the area on Wednesday—he was here in 2016, at the Midland—in support of the new record, co-headlining a show with Machine Gun Kelly at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence. Songs like “Hot” and the throwback hit “Check” shook the building like heavy metal headbangers, with Thug whipping up miniature mosh pits requiring very little coaxing (hearing Thug say the phrase “mosh pit” in his endearing nasal tone was a joy). These songs saw Thug at his most excited and aggressive on the mic, his high-pitched drawl rising to a cry at times.
But Thug also dispensed loose bits of oddball charisma throughout the set, like an acapella vocal run on the country-inflected “Family Don’t Matter,” or even just the ambient clanging of his jewelry hitting the microphone between songs. At one point, Thug invited three women to sit on the slime-green porch swing on the stage and receive a trapped-out serenade. His only truly regrettable move was closing with “The London,” a song that features a lifeless Travis Scott hook and embodies little of what fans love about Thug.
Machine Gun Kelly got his first taste of fame in 2012 with his Waka Flocka-featuring, Jackass-referencing, party-rap hit “Wild Boy.” Since then, the Cleveland rapper has amassed a cult of passionate young fans and released a handful of albums. His recent starring role in Netflix’s Motley Crue biopic The Dirt has also boosted his profile.
The motor-mouthed bad boy’s stage setup featured a large skull with devil horns that Kelly would stand atop and spin on as he spun his tales of love, heartbreak, depression, and having haters (as one Eminem diss track detailed). The songwriting on some of the source material was often cringeworthy, particularly in the dark religious imagery and cliché sad rap hooks utilized on his latest, Hotel Diablo. But Kelly was by far the tour’s most exciting and professional stage performer, despite the relatively low attendance (about 3,000, leaving plenty of empty seats and a lot of open floor space). Within the first few songs of his set, Kelly had already hopped into the crowd, climbed into the bleachers, and attempted an ill-fated dive to fans standing a few feet below (though they did eventually crowd-surf him for a bit).
Several newer songs had been injected with emo, pop-punk, and metal guitar work, some of which Kelly executed personally, though his backing band handled much of it. The emo rap sound popularized by the late Lil Peep and his peers may work for Kelly’s screaming and already-devoted fans, but to an outside ear, it often felt flimsy and derivative. One song sounded eerily like an oldie by Linkin Park.
Rising Chicago star Polo G provided a 20-minute set that highlighted his ability to pen street rap hits that are both emotionally devastating lyrically and nonchalant in their delivery. As one would expect, his performance was hardly colorful, but his youth and the weight of his material possess an inherent a sense of urgency.
Opening the show with a triple-header of 10-15 minute sets from Strick (a surprisingly personable Young Thug disciple from North Carolina with sleek, pop trap material), HiDoraah & Dolly (Young Thug’s sisters, a fun, bouncy duo still easing into performing for big crowds), and RJmrLA (a Los Angeles rapper whose boisterous g-funk energy provided a few early highlights).