Photo Credit: Matt Berg (Instagram) (Twitter)
Attending school in Western Massachusetts is pretty much what it sounds like. For those unfamiliar with the area, it consists mostly of farmland, and while the vast space can make for some beautiful scenery, it is far from an urban environment. The densest areas population-wise are colleges and surrounding towns, the largest of which being the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (UMass), with a student enrollment of over twenty thousand. The school is the centerpiece of the area, and as a result, has been able to land performances from big names in the past.
Rap music fans like myself eagerly await the announcement of these school-wide concerts, due to the general concert drought we tend to find ourselves in. Live music is abundant in Western Massachusetts. One can catch an indie rock band in a basement somewhere on pretty much any weekend, but rap shows are rare. This past March, the school secured Future to headline a show at UMass, and it was without a doubt a highlight of the year. So, when a poster appeared on a bathroom door outside of my information systems class declaring that the legendary Pusha T, alongside Lyrical-Lemonade favorite Lil Tecca, would be headlining a free show on campus in just two weeks, I was ecstatic.
But being in Western Massachusetts, and knowing the shaky track record that rappers tend to have with live shows, especially college shows, we tend to expect the worst. In fact, earlier in 2019, Lil Uzi Vert was scheduled to headline our spring concert, but canceled a couple weeks prior to the event. He was replaced by Lil Baby, who no-showed on the night of the concert without warning. Just a week prior to that, Young Thug canceled a show at a nearby school just an hour before he was supposed to perform. All in all, it’s safe to say that it’s never a guarantee that an artist will perform as promised in a non-urban area like UMass, and it’s not a bad idea to expect the worst before getting too excited about seeing an artist.
I personally was counting down the days until Pusha’s performance on the big stage at the indoor stadium on campus, as he’s a personal favorite of mine, and has been for a while. His candid lyricism, laced with remarkable wordplay, along with a relentless delivery and a killer discography, both with Clipse and on his own, makes him one of hip-hop’s finest. I saw him perform once before in the summer of 2018 in support of his Daytona album, where he proved to be a true symbol of power on stage. Multiple times on that hot summer night, thousands chanted his name as he stood there admiring the crowd. His presence made a mark on the whole room, and it was inspiring. His performance in the heartland of Massachusetts this past Thursday was no different.
There was, however, a different atmosphere in the room this time. Instead of twenty-five hundred paying fans like last summer, there were about five hundred (maybe even fewer) college students (who didn’t even have to pay for admission). The night started with many more in attendance though, all the way up until Lil Tecca’s set at 9:00. After this, however, much to my dismay and utter shock, students started piling out for the night.
We love Lil Tecca here at Lyrical Lemonade, and he put on a fun show with high energy. It was nice to see so many fans of such a budding young artist, and he should have a great career ahead of him. It was surprising, however, for much of the crowd to leave right before a hip-hop legend’s performance. It threw me for a loop to say the least, and while it’s great to see so much love for Tecca, it felt disrespectful given my respect for Push. Once again though, it brought to my attention the reality of the bubble that I sometimes find myself in as an avid music fan. I have such a high perception of Pusha T as an artist, and as a person, and to see so many simply not care all that much was a wakeup call for me. Pusha T may be one of the greatest rappers of all time in my opinion, and he may have dropped one of the “best” albums of last year, but it appears his greatness is still undiscovered by many.
Before I go any further, I should rewind back to the start of the night. We were told before the show that doors opened at 5 PM, so we arrived a little before then, only to actually wait until 7 PM for the doors to open, and then find out that Lil Tecca wasn’t performing until 9 PM, and Pusha T not until 10 PM. At this point, I knew what I was in for. A couple more hours standing through random opening acts and DJ sets amongst other college students waiting for the headliners.
I was determined to stick it out. A friend bailed upon seeing the set times, and I couldn’t blame him, considering his overall unfamiliarity with King Push’s catalog, and the idea in the back of his head that if Push didn’t show up like others before him, we would do all this waiting with no Pusha T at the end of it. It’s safe to say that I didn’t blame my friend for leaving, but with Push being an all-time favorite, I owed it to myself to stay and hope for the best.
The floor cleared out significantly after Tecca’s set, but there was still a good number of students left in the seats above (who unfortunately were not allowed on the floor despite the space available), and we had a nice group of students committed to watching King Push that night.
Students were also being kicked out of the crowd for not having the proper wrist band required for entry. This was not only a distraction to the performance, but with only so many of us present post-10 PM, it felt like losing a brother in battle every time a fan was taken outside by security.
However, despite the challenges, Pusha T came out at 10 PM as scheduled, and proceeded to deliver, bar none, one of the greatest live performances I have ever witnessed.
As far as the songs performed, it was similar to recent Pusha T sets, all starting out with a slightly sped up acapella intro of one of the most dominant intro tracks in recent memory, “If You Know You Know.” When the distinct Kanye West-drums finally kicked in, the hours of waiting instantly became worth it. This only became more apparent as the set progressed, with Push tearing it up track after track, and leaving everything out on the stage.
His stage presence and crowd engagement reached another level that night. Like always with Push, the track cuts and transitions were like no other, and the track sequencing was riveting. He was so in sync with the DJ, always ready to fire when it was time. The man has it down to a science at this point, and every bar he raps is soaked in the coldest blood imaginable, paired with a correlating hand-movement every time. He probably barely even thinks about it after all the years, but this practice and hard work has resulted in something that meant so much to those in the crowd.
We don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe he noticed the attendance was smaller than usual or maybe he knew about the horrible organization and the long waits that plagued the night. Regardless of what he knew though, Pusha T pulled through and absolutely made everyone’s night. Not only is he an incredibly talented musician, he’s an admirable human being who set a great example for everyone that night: to show up when you’re supposed to show up, and put everything you have into everything you commit to, no matter the circumstances. He even performed his two newest tracks, “Coming Home” and “Sociopath” live for the first time. He hit the performance out of the park, and the result was an unforgettable night.
So, thank you to Pusha T. If I wasn’t already a supporter for life, I officially am now. Here it is in writing for proof, and I think that when I say that, I’m speaking for everyone who was in attendance that one Thursday night in the backcountry of Western Massachusetts, because it meant more than words can describe to all of us.