As I neared The Masquerade for the 2011 Smoker’s Club tour stop in Atlanta, Georgia, I couldn’t have imagined anything much closer to amusing perfection. In case you hadn’t noticed, hip hop has long been a bit steeped in weed culture, and played a significant role in the ever-increasing acceptance of the arbitrarily illegal substance. Now, we’ve come as far as to market a tour around a red-eyed marijuana leaf. In a sense, it was no different than any show: at least a third of the audience will be smoking, and the security will conveniently miss any goings-ons, save a display of true stupidity. However, I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought: how were they going to kick kids out, with a straight face, at a show named after the damn thing? It was a comical display of the stupidity of the whole facade.
This is year two for the tour, expanding beyond Curren$y and the Jet Family to add tourmates Method Man and Big K.R.I.T., making it more of an event for hip hop fans. Now, the Masquerade is divided into two floors: Heaven and Hell, and the night’s performances occurred in the former. However, little to my surprise, security was continuing the ruse of “avoiding” smokers: one stoner entered the room, already lit, and a member grumbled, “all smoking should occur in Hell.” You had to laugh, both at the wording, and the fact that plumes of smoke whisked around the beleaguered guard as he said it. During the pre-show, with acts such as Fiend and Marcus Manchild (friendly career advice: change the name) making their appearances, I traveled about the audience, finding the “Club” members to be living up to their name, almost all in unison.
I moved up to the stage as the show started to pick up, Smoke DZA appearing. I quickly realized either a grand kindness, or mistake, was taking place: security didn’t intend to move the media from the stage after the traditional three songs. Miscommunication or relaxed standards due to the nature of the evening, I’m not sure, but it sure made for a crazy night: as surprise guests entered, the press was right there, creating a frenzy. It made for one of the more memorable shows of my life: the artists were completely unafraid to interact with both the press and the audience, and vice versa in all respects. Method Man questioned the new generation of rap listener’s ability to have fun, saying, “since when were rap fans too cool to have fun? Shows aren’t about having fun anymore…well, if anyone in here tonight has fun, I’m going to.” The audience responded by giving Meth what seemed like the highlight of his tour. The crowd was ecstatic, and he responded in kind.
The entire night possessed a funnier quality than I’d even expected: the room quickly grew smokier than a Sphongle show, with each and every rapper that performed smoking away on stage themselves, but each time they asked how many in the audience were smoking, the expected grand reply was muted, playing by the rules. Method Man was left to laugh in confusion as he received no response from a crowd out-fuming a steam engine. He shared blunts with the audience members brave enough to pass them up, crowd surfed, stole a hat from a random fan, throwing it off into the audience – only to give him his own, in return. Of all the performers that evening, it’s debatable who gave the best show, but Method Man, beyond of a shadow of a doubt, gave the fullest. He played old favorites, such as “What the Blood Clot” and “Ice Cream,” along with a tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, for which he brought out the fallen comrade’s son to rap the verses from “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Got Your Money.” The audience ate up every moment the Wu had to offer, shouts of “Wu Tang Clan ain’t nuttin to fuck wit!,” predictably arose. Then he was gone, and it was time for the return of forever.
Big K.R.I.T. entered with hardly a delay, another endearing aspect of the tour: not a moment was wasted between shows, creating a fluid, ceaselessly entertaining experience. You hardly had time to catch your breath from one powerful performance before the other began. Of the main performances, the rising Southern MC’s was certainly the most packed: while both Meth and Curren$y are established rap mainstays, K.R.I.T. is what’s hot now. He hit the audience hard with a barrage of recent staples, such as “Rise and Shine,” “My Sub,” and “Time Machine,” going back for “Just Touched Down,” along with the Spitta collab “Glass House.” Smoke DZA reappeared for a collab, and at one point, local favorite 2Chainz emerged, and the audience flipped. It was the second time in the last few months the rapper popped in for a show in Atlanta, and both times, his massive presence exceeded his limited MC’ing ability. The person most excited to see 2Chainz was 2Chainz, and his gleeful exuberance could sell the greatest hater. Despite the grand nature of K.R.I.T.’s show, everyone was expecting it, waiting for “Country Shit.” What we weren’t expecting, was what happened. K.R.I.T. paused, smiling, and said, “Being where we are, I thought tonight we could do something special, have someone else tell you about some country shit.” And Ludacris strode in. If 2Chainz had caused a frenzy, this was delirium. Atlanta gave their all for their own, and the bass went so high up for the man’s verse that I legitimately felt the stage was in danger of collapsing. There was no topping that, I thought, but he proved me wrong again. K.R.I.T. closed with a moving rendition of “The Vent,” which only gained more power in a live setting. As the Mississippi rapper closed with the “Hope you understand what I’m going through” refrain, the feeling was palpable.
Of all the performers, I’d most been looking forward to Curren$y, but now the poor guy had two incredible performances to follow. I recalled the plentiful tweets the rapper had posted about breaking his foot at Rock the Bells, and wondered if he’d had the cast off. As it turns out, he hadn’t – and it led to one of the better shows I’ve seen in some time. The rapper had brought his house with him. A background display was set up, with a fancy couch and what bordered on a king’s chair, all sitting on stage. Entering, Spitta declared, “the doctor told me I should stay off my feet, stop touring. But I figured, why not bring home with me, and kick it with y’all.” I’d long imagined a Curren$y show to be a unique experience, but this was something. He brought out his buddies, some of them rappers (including Freddie Gibbs), others just sitting on the couch, rolling him and themselves weed, passing champagne and other booze. It made for one hell of a time. Spitta was just kicking it, smoking and rapping away. I crawled in the photo pit, stationing myself right in front of the MC, now stationed in the chair.
Then my personal highlight occurred. Spitta was fumbling about his pockets, clearly in need of a lighter. I caught his eye, nodded, and handed him mine. He lit his entertainment, and then eventually hopped back over to the couch, leaving the lighter. “He’s high,” I thought, “No reason he’d remember some random like me handed him a lighter, and I want that back.” It was now a prized possession, after all. Then something took me completely by surprise: “Before we keep going, I need a lighter, this guy over there took his back, sneaky bastard, I was gonna give it back.” Shocked, I did the first thing that occurred to me: I threw the lighter at him. It bounced off his leg, hit the floor, and he reached, grabbing it, saying, “Now you’re throwing lighters at me?? Rude mutha fucka!,” laughed, “Naw, we good though.” You could call it the highlight of my night.
This may have been a special event for myself, but it reflects something true of the entire show. Unlike a performance simply billed as an appearance, the Smoker’s Club Tour, however silly, has a purpose. Those present are all in it for the fun, there was no hesitance to join the artists in any movement, no angry pushing to the front, just a bunch of rap fans enjoying their favorite artists having a good time. For that’s what it was like, more than a performance, the MC’s were simply galloping around the stage, finding something they clearly valued: a true connection with their fans. The appearances of the likes of Ludacris was simply explained, it wasn’t a pressured show, but rather, a show of love from both sides of the stage. Out of those performing, there was no clear dominant set, rather, all the artists genuinely seemed to enjoy each other’s company, happy for each other’s successes. Between the headliners, we were presented with the past, present, and future of hip hop, all giving it their all. Don’t be fooled by the slogan, this tour is about far more than marijuana.
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