I had never seen a crowd of Stanford students more joyful than when the opening bars of “No Problem” began to stream out of the speakers on the Blackfest stage. We had been waiting — some of us for hours — in the thick of an ever-growing crowd for this. The roar was deafening.
And in the end, there was 2 Chainz.
Blackfest, the annual music and cultural festival put on by Stanford’s very own Black Family Gathering Committee, was many things — a joyful celebration of Black life and culture within the University and throughout the Bay Area, a triumphant showcase for student artists and one hell of a party, just to name a few — but for an hour or so, as the sun drifted low in the early spring sky over FloMo field, Blackfest 2018 became a shrine to 2 Chainz. But even before the Atlanta rapper took the stage Sunday evening, there was plenty to appreciate at Blackfest.
The festival began with some acts closer to home, with four openers from the Stanford student community starting us off in the afternoon. The performers all occupied some space in the fruitful land between rap and R&B, but their differing approaches showed the sheer diversity of the student musical community at the University. The slam-poetry tinged rap of Melinda Hernandez ‘21 segued into the hard-nosed, versatile flows of VII (Gabriel Townsell ’20), with the two rising Chicago musicians weaving their life experiences and perspectives into their music. The self-assured, trap-tinged R&B of Alexa Luckey ’21 and the smooth, fusion R&B of Tres Digital, a trio made up of Brandon Hightower ’15, Wesley Mitchell ’15 and Bernard Wang M.A. ’20, two alumni and an incoming grad student, provided a looser, poppier rejoinder, with Tres Digital’s closing song “All Good” serving as a refreshing aperitif to the student performances. VII’s set was the most dynamic of the afternoon — though fairly short time-wise, he ripped through a dizzying array of styles and flows from songs off his EPs, including this April’s “CHICO DeBARS VOL. 1: LIMITLESS.” Linking together all of the different songs in VII’s set was the drum work of Johnny Weger ’18, whose live kit playing accented the synth heavy beats on songs like “HARDWOOD FLOW$.” Weger anchored the set, allowing for Townsell to move the crowd with his blend of sheer technical skill and thoughtful, well-constructed rhymes and songs.
After the student acts completed their all-too-short sets, the Blackfest audience was tided over until the headliners came on by an array of DJ sets. The sets, started off by 106.1 KMEL and 92.3 KRRL’s DJ Amen, provided a decent mix of classic Bay Area rap like Mac Dre and more modern hits from Kendrick Lamar and Migos, but by the late afternoon the audience was getting antsy in expectation of the festival’s big acts.
Dreezy, an upcoming rapper who has been crowned in the past as the “Princess of Chicago Rap,” ably served as a prelude to 2 Chainz. Her dextrous flows and brash, uncompromising attitude and stage presence made her a perfect pairing for the night’s headliner, and her half-hour performance running through some of the harder hits in her catalog left the crowd hyped up for 2 Chainz.
By God, did 2 Chainz live up to the hype. While casual listeners who only have been exposed to 2 Chainz as the “TRUUU”-yelling jokester from hits like “Mercy” and “No Problem” may get the impression that Tauheed Epps is simply a party rapper, a one trick pony, his performance at Blackfest instead made the case for 2 Chainz as a living legend, a Trap lord with more than two decades of experience in the game and the performing skill to match. The course of his nearly hour-long set ran through his entire career, from his days as Tity Boi in the Atlanta rap duo Playaz Circle (founded in 1997) to his commercial resurgence in the 2010s with a string of instantly iconic features on songs like Drake’s “All Me” and Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance.” Yet the bulk of 2 Chainz’s set relied on his own work — his three solo albums, from 2011’s “Based on a T.R.U. Story” to last year’s “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music,” provide him with more than enough material to rock the festival. He even played the Blackfest audience some of the material from his upcoming “Rap or Go to the League,” out this summer — “Proud,” an ode to his mom that he released as part of an EP earlier this year, was maybe the best song in his entire set.
It helps that, beyond his substantial catalog, 2 Chainz is simply an incredible MC, in the traditional sense of a Master of Ceremonies. He developed an instant rapport with the Stanford crowd, doing everything from listing his star sign — he’s an Virgo, if you were wondering — to giving advice on proper weed etiquette and challenging people to a jump shot competition on the FloMo courts.
Yet even a set by a performer as charismatic as 2 Chainz must end eventually, and as evening fell upon the field he departed, leaving the thousand-or-so in the crowd with nothing but good memories of his performance. Blackfest has come and gone this year, but the energy of both the big name headliners and the student openers is all the proof we need of the strength and vitality of the Black creative community on campus. If you weren’t at Blackfest this year, don’t miss it next year.
Contact Jacob Kuppermann at jkupperm ‘at’ stanford.edu.