It’s November 1, the first night of Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Day festival taking over Chicago. I step out of the rain and into the group of people crowded under the marquee at the Metro. After clearing metal detectors, bag checks and a patronizingly difficult ID check, I am told there is a place I can get my picture taken “like him” and I see his face on dollar bills folded into stacks on the table.
Tonight the him is Young Thug, and Red Bull has cheeky reminders at the bar: “Tropic Thugger” is a citrus mixture of tequila, lime juice, simple syrup and, of course, Red Bull; “Super Slime” is a mixture of cognac, cloudy apple juice, lemon juice and Red Bull topped off with a strawberry. I decide to go with “The OG,” a vodka and Red Bull minus the kitsch. With drinks in hand my friend and I headed up to the “Barter 6”-themed photo booth to top off our branded experience.
Since the night was sponsored by Red Bull, the promptness of everything was unheard of for a rap show. They managed to get a poet and two rap acts on and off stage before Young Thug came out for his set. Timing is key to the goal of these shows: to showcase up-and-coming acts as headliners and get the audience to consume lots of Red Bull in the four hours they’re at the venue after doors open (many lined-up before 8 p.m. doors to try to land a limited “DMB x Young Thug” concert tee designed by Chicago’s Joe Freshgoods).
Poet Kevin Coval, author of “A People’s History of Chicago” which included a foreword written by Chance the Rapper, read his work before a reactive and engaged crowd. He was allotted just five minutes before DJ Oreo took over the stage.
Valee had eleven people on stage and the hype extended through the crowd. I was pleasantly surprised by their stage presence and radio-ready sound.
The second opener, Leikeli47, stood out in contrast to the robust Valee—rapper Leikeli stood on stage in front of DJ masked in a cut-out black bandana, her signature look. Leikeli won’t reveal her name or her age, telling Billboard, “You want to know about me? Press play”—an interesting take on female representation in the industry. Although the sold-out crowd seemed to thin out for bathroom and Super Slime breaks before the headlining set, Leikeli was another pleasant surprise of the evening.
The night proved an interesting take on personal and company branding in the industry as openers took selfies on both their own and audience members’ phones while performing. Red Bull threw out an absurd amount of t-shirts before Young Thug’s set—it was like the Metro turned into Wrigley Field as people dove for balled-up surprises.
When Young Thug did come out it was 11:30 p.m., only 10 minutes after his prescribed set time. At that point most people in the audience had sucked down a couple of neon slime-themed concoctions and the Red Bull ingredients were pulsing through their veins. Young Thug came out in a pristine knee-length camel peacoat followed by 14 of his closest friends.
He went through a setlist that alternated old to new tunes rather consistently, intermediated by sounds of breaking glass. He shouted out his DJ and told the crowd he is his best friend before heading into “Best Friend”—a move that was genuinely sweet in the context of the night.
Another sweet moment at the show was Thugga trying to remove the hoodie from under his t-shirt but getting caught inside and requiring help from friends before he just took them both off and went shirtless.
Young Thug’s set peaked with “RiRi,” one of both his and my favorite songs, and ended without an encore—an occurrence met with sighs, relief for those headed to work in the morning and continued anticipation for those in the audience with tickets to any of the rest of the largely sold-out 30 Days line-up.