Last September, Atlanta rapper Future performed for an enthusiastic but thin crowd at SOBs, having crossed the Mason Dixon line on the strength of sing-along singles "Tony Montana" and "Racks." Last night, with two 2011 albums-disguised-as-mixtapes behind him and a freshly-signed major label deal, 2 Chainz sold out the same venue, performing his first NYC show for an eager audience packed thick with winter coats. His own national profile now more substantial, Future was present not in body but in spirit—New York's Power 105.1 DJs filling downtime with repeat-spins of his club hits "Word to My Muva" and "Same Damn Time."
2 Chainz was voted most popular and best dressed in high school, and later, as a member of Playaz Circle, by a young Nicki Minaj. Standing 6'5", he has the demeanor of a retired basketball star turned excellent coach, happily allergic to the hater type. In a fur-lined hoodie and hat to match, he walked onstage to Juicy J's "Zip and a Double Cup," grin wide and dreads loose. He mugged in silence, taking conservative sips from a double-stacked Dunkin Donuts foam tumbler. He passed that to the side to play good host, thanking the crowd for their patience before tearing through "Kitchen," his arms often raised gracefully overhead, as if readying to take a merengue partner. Later he said "If you smoke strong weed make a muscle," and flexed both arms. His good humor and manners were not lost on the uncomfortably stuffed crowd. On "Turn Up" 2 Chainz rapped, I do this all night/ Man I shoulda wore pajamas, a statement appropriate for the evening's we're-all-friends-here slumber party vibes.
After some 13 years of slow rise, 2 Chainz' live set is short and polished, running through current hits ("Riot," "Supafreak") and career touchstones ("Duffle Bag Boy") alike. A consummate professional, he arrived onstage almost immediately after the opener, Houston fast rapper Marcus Manchild, finished up. For his set, Manchild brought Paul Wall and Slim Thug, who performed 2004 breakout "Still Tippin." A trimmed-down Wall rolled out his catchphrase I got the internet going nuts and the crowd went IRL nuts. Later, as 2 Chainz ran through his biggest hit so far, "Spend It," the mood was way-up, but maybe not as high as the energy in tweets reacting to the show, where people yelled #SIMILAAAAAAAACCCC for their followers and friends. Because he understands this, 2 Chainz ends his shows with instrumental outros where he stands still, allowing fans an easy moment to snap a phone pic for Facebook and Twitter. Posing, he made a face like one would when watching their grandkid graduate from kindergarten.
At the end of that cool-down, 2 Chainz shared final words in tribute to Pimp C, thanked the Def Jam executives in the back and said good night. Onstage he'd called New York rap's mecca, saying it's a shame that NY and the South have been so "hard on each other" over time. As people began to leave, Raekwon made a surprise appearance. He embraced 2 Chainz, showering him with compliments, still managing to steal the last word.