“Yeah, bro, Big Boi is sick.”
Welcome to a rap concert at an elite university. As the doors to Mandel Hall opened on Friday night for the University of Chicago’s Major Activities Board fall show, the first wave of soon-to-be audience members flooded into the auditorium. “Dude, we’re going to be so close to them!” “I know, dude, I know!”
As the lights went out and Kid Sister’s DJ began bumping one of her tracks, the ground began to tremble with the crowd’s anticipation. Yet as the South Side rap artist’s set continued, it became clear that something wasn’t quite right. She punctuated her performance with fervent appeals to “give it up” for the South Side, and although the crowd obliged each time, it was clear they did so more out of courtesy than of shared enthusiasm for the rapper’s home turf.
After Kid Sister’s energetic, but somewhat ill-received performance, Big Boi stepped up, accompanied by friend and occasional Outkast collaborator BlackOwned C-Bone. Kid Sister’s performance had both gotten the crowd moving and made clear how out of place she was in an auditorium full of hyper-educated out-of-staters, but Big Boi and C-Bone made the irony of the event explicit. Though Big Boi (aka Francis the Savannah Chitlin’ Pimp) did not comment outright on the strangeness of the situation, his almost perfunctory stage presence said it all. Unlike Kid Sister, he rarely addressed the crowd between songs, conferring that duty upon C-Bone, who took those times as an opportunity to promote his own solo work. The crowning moment of the evening’s locational novelty came when a slew of sorority-esque girls took the stage to dance with the two ATL rappers. They giggled coquettishly throughout the entirety of their “performance,” raising the roof and otherwise exhibiting their best efforts to get down like those girls in that Miley Cyrus video.
Now don’t mistake this for an attack on those who listen to hip-hop without ever having lived in the hood: I mean merely to highlight the awkwardness of Saturday night’s proceedings. The film “How High”–in which Method Man and Redman, thanks to knowledge gained from communing with the dead while stoned, attend Harvard–derives a large portion of its comedic value by dint of its implausible fish-out-of-water premise, which is bolstered by the fact that the two actors are well-known rappers in real life. And just as Harvard suddenly appears unnatural and comical in the presence of Meth and Red, so, too, did the University of Chicago look a little bit awkward in front of Kid Sister and Big Boi.