It’s astonishing that the most dramatic rap beef of 2018 also highlighted the most dramatic disparity in show attendance in hip hop today.
Pusha T made headlines for his Drake diss track earlier this year, brutalizing the radio rapper with his call outs. The pair volleyed in the press and the studio before eventually fading out of the news cycle. The biggest difference between the two now- Drake is selling out arenas and Pusha couldn’t quite fill The Pressroom in downtown Phoenix.
At the end of the night, none of that mattered. Pusha is a stellar performer whose talent speaks for itself- and the day one fans agreed.
Brooklyn-based soul-funk group Phony Ppl got things started. As the only opener, they filled a primetime slot with no competition for the crowd’s attention.
Singer Elbie Thrie’s smooth vocals layered over slick bass grooves, jazzy drum fills and the perfect balance of keys injected at just the right moments. The group played a selection of songs from their new album mō’zā-ik, along with older material.
The band preached positivity, love and good vibes between Patron shots and the audience was immediately won over. Phony Ppl played for over an hour but no one seemed to mind, and the band’s message fully permeated the audience by the end of the set.
Pusha T didn’t waste any time with a long gap between sets or any stage frills. He performed on a mostly empty stage, leaving plenty of room for his DJ and blinding LED displays on the side, illuminating both Pusha and his crowd. His music appeals to all kinds of people and they all shouted the words to every song.
The tour, dubbed The Daytona Experience, celebrated (in Pusha’s words) “the rap album of the motherfucking year!” (The slogan was also available in t-shirt form at the merch table.) This may be true or not but there’s no doubt that Pusha and his fans truly believe it. Hardly stopping for breath, Pusha plowed through songs like “If You Know You Know”, “Come Back Baby” and “What Would Meek Do?”, along with a selection of Kanye covers and collaborations.
“They can’t fuck with us, man” was the message of the night as Pusha addressed the hyped up audience. Hip hop is often a very divisive genre and community, and Pusha’s had his share of beef over the years, but the live performance strips all of that away.
He’s a fantastic performer, keeping the crowd engaged and was in turns happy, snarky and defiant, creating his own rap game based on pure talent and tight rhymes.
Shockingly, the show was over by 10:30pm but the crowd got their fill, plenty leaving in Daytona shirts proudly declaring their allegiance to Pusha T’s album of the year.
Story and photos by Olivia Khiel