Big Sean, Rich Homie Quan, Rapsody
Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham
Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015

In the middle of her opening set on Saturday night as part of N.C. Central’s Ultimate Homecoming Weekend, Rapsody delivered a strong message to the crowd that was still filing the space: “Any woman can do anything as well, or better, than a man can… all this talk about a ‘female MC,’ a ‘FemmeCee’? I’m a mothafuckin’ beast!”

And with the side-stage video boards at Durham Performing Arts Center playing synced-up music videos, a live band performing behind her and the legendary 9th Wonder handling the boards, the Raleigh-by-way-of-Snow Hill, N.C. artist made good on the claim. Rapsody takes her live show seriously, from her familiarity with the band down to the thoughtfully prepared transitions between songs, like a crowd-stirring rendition of Lauryn Hill’s verse on “Ready Or Not” as an intro to her own “Believe Me,” which borrows its title and chorus from the Fugees classic.

Even after Rapsody had left the stage, 9th turned to the band to lead them in the breakdown from Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City.” Then the stage finally cleared, making way for the big mistake of NCCU’s Homecoming selection committee: Rich Homie Quan.

You know you’re listening to an artist known almost exclusively for radio features when the DJ has to yell “QUAN VERSE! QUAN VERSE!” on multiple songs to signal that the performer’s part of the song is actually arriving. Not that his verses particularly stood out, anyway: Quan picked and chose which words from songs he felt like reciting and, in many cases, which parts of words he felt like saying. DJ bomb-dropping sounds and shouts of “Turn Up!” were as prominent as the Atlanta rapper/singer himself. After a forgettable 45 or so minutes on stage (it felt like hours), he closed out his set with a sequence of chart-topping radio hits that had the Homecoming crowd singing every word—“Lifestyle,” “Type Of Way” and “Flex,” all while regaling us with his uncomfortable, air-humping “Flex” dance.

The irony of seeing an event with a man named Rich Homie Quan at a venue like DPAC has many layers, but perhaps none is more thick than the contrast between listening to shouts from the DJs on stage—“Pull ya mothafuckin’ phones out! Pull ya mothafuckin’ Snapchats out!!”—and looking over between sets to see the venue’s polite video board PSAs: “Listen closely … it’s a concert, not a photoshoot,” and, “Please … save your texting for after the show.” It’s as if DPAC doesn’t usually host acts with lyrics like “I came to bang you, girl.”

Whether bolstered by the low bar Rich Homie Quan had set or not, Big Sean’s entrance felt electric. It was certainly no Yeezus tour, but for a college show, this was a massive production: a huge platform above the live band, giant video boards that flashed from solid colors to moving human faces to the ominous storm clouds and lightning bolts that have become synonymous with the branding around Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise. Backed with explosive live drums and keys that brought new life to his studio tracks, Big Sean jumped around his entire catalog.

Still, the same spectre of “radio hits” hung over the Sean performance as it had Rich Homie Quan’s. Of the five or six songs that completely brought down the house, four did not even belong to the G.O.O.D. music representer: “Mercy” “Clique,” “I Don’t Like” (all by Kanye West) and Drake’s “All Me.” Even the biggest outright Big Sean song of the night—”Dance (A$$),” from his 2011 debut album, Finally Famous—owes much of its popularity to a Nicki Minaj remix.

It felt somewhat strange to see an artist with as many popular songs as Big Sean be most warmly received for appearances on mega-tracks made for the radio. But maybe that’s just where hip-hop stands right now. Regardless, Big Sean’s cinematic live set and the soulful energy of Rapsody was more than enough to make it a memorable night at DPAC, even if some of us would like to forget everything in between.