It’s early in adulthood that many of us realize the value of a crew. The kindred spirits who lifted us up while down. The family who kept us in or out of trouble. As you read this, your mind may race back to a cohort who made an indelible mark on your life.
On Saturday, basketball’s elite gathered in Cleveland for the NBA All-Star Game, but the night’s highlight wasn’t a dunk contest if you were in the nation’s capital. The Anthem auditorium at DC’s Southwest Waterfront hosted the ÑBA Leather World Tour, which featured a collection of musicians as talented and unique as the championship-winning ‘89 Bad Boy Pistons — The Alchemist, Boldly James, Earl Sweatshirt, and Action Bronson.
The second half of the 16-date tour began on Feb. 19 with a DJ set from the hardest working producer in music — The Alchemist. The prolific beatmaker has been constructing hip-hop soundscapes for decades. Artists such as Nas, Jadakiss, Mobb Deep, Mac Miller, and Freddie Gibbs have rhymed over the Grammy-nominated producer’s sparse arrangements. During his set, Alc spun some of his classics and even grabbed the mic to spit verses from Dilated People’s ode to friendship, “Worst Comes to Worst.”
The Alchemist is the common denominator that binds the atomic emcees of the ÑBA Leather tour. At some point, each rapper to take the stage has been blessed by Alc’s conjurings. Detroit’s mafioso rapper Boldy James is the latest lyricist to benefit from The Alchemist’s cinematic instrumentals. The two released their critically acclaimed Bo Jackson and Super Tecmo Bo albums last year.
Boldy James has been putting in work since 2011 when he was a part of the Cool Kids clique, but today he runs among the rappers of Griselda Records. His career has seen a resurgence since joining the Buffalo-based independent label and crew. The output of Boldy’s labelmates is analogous to the narcotics-fueled street tales that are consistent with his brand. The Griselda signature sound was exemplified during Boldy’s performance of “Brickmile to Montana.”
Who has helped to elevate you professionally, personally, or spiritually? If you’re Earl Sweatshirt, you’ll likely recall the 2010s super hip-hop collective Odd Future. The California rapper cut his industry teeth with the notable musicians of that crew — Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, and Syd of The Internet, to name a few. In his song “Chum,” Earl rhymes about Tyler the Creator’s brotherly support in the absence of his father.
Earl Sweatshirt stepped onto The Anthem stage to the breezy Alchemist produced “E. Coli.” The short track would whet appetites for a discography that began in 2010. That’s when the alt-rapper released his eponymous debut mixtape at the age of sixteen. The subsequent studio albums would be filled with reflective and allegorical lyrics.
“Strong spirit where the body couldn’t get asylum/The cost of living high, don’t cross the picket line and get the virus…” Earl Sweatshirt rhymed during his performance of “Old Friend.” The poetic verse sums up the last two years. A lyrical time capsule from Earl’s fourth studio album, Sick!
Sometimes we have to say goodbye to members of our crew too soon. One of Mac Miller’s more foreboding and introspective songs is titled “2009.” In a clear homage to his friend, who passed away from a drug overdose in 2018, Earl performed “2010.” The futuristically Zen track by Detroit producer Black Noi$e was perfect for Earl’s unhurried lyrical flow.
Miller was also remembered by Earl’s co-headliner, Action Bronson. “Rest in peace Mac,” said Bronson following his performance of The Alchemist produced “Red Dot Music,” from Mac Miller’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off album
Action Bronson, the Bacchus of rap, is looking more Adonis these days. The formerly husky emcee emerged from the backstage darkness as if he had just climbed down from Mount Olympus. Bronson clutched the mic with a Herculean grip while rhyming the verses to “Dmtri.”
T-shirts, shoes, hats, and other articles were thrown onto the stage during Bronson’s performance, but I don’t think anyone was ready for the leg. Bronsoliño carried the prosthetic limb like a trophy as he stomped across the platform. He would eventually sign the Nike high top on the artificial foot before handing it back to its owner in the front row.
Mr. Baklava, one of Bronson’s many sobriquets, would perform with the intensity of a professional wrestler. He had the energy of Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III when the Hulkster slammed Andre the Giant. A fact perhaps not lost on the animated rapper. “Vroom vroom through the set, who’s next to get suplexed?” rhymed Bronson on “Latin Grammys.”
The rabble-rouser did slow things down — in his own way — on “Baby Blue.” Bam Bam turned crooner as he belted out the song’s chorus. The audience couldn’t get enough, but there were two announcements that elicited even loader roars from fans. His new album, El Cocodrillo Turbo, and a new season of F*ck That’s Delicious are on the horizon.
The artists on the ÑBA Leather World Tour couldn’t be more different, but as with many friendships, the contrast makes it work. Action Bronson closed out the show with “Easy Rider.” “Ride the Harley into the sunset…Ride the Harley into the sunset…,” bellowed Bronson.
Other highlights from the show included performances of…
- “Pinto,” The Price of Tea in China (2020)
- “Illegal Search & Seizure,” Bo Jackson (2021)
- “Speed Demon Freestyle,” The Price of Tea in China (2020)
- “The Bends,” Some Rap Song (2018)
- “Ontheway!” Some Rap Song (2018)
- “Ghost,” Feet of Clay (2019)
- “Grief,” I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt (2015)
- “Fire in the Hole,” Sick! (2021)
- “Capoeira,” Only for Dolphins (2020)
- “Actin’ Crazy,” Mr. Wonderful (2015)
- “Bonzai,” Blue Chips 7000 (2017)
- “White Bronco,” White Bronco (2018)
- “9-24-11,” Blue Chips (2012)
Here are some photos from the ÑBA Leather World Tour at The Anthem on Feb. 19, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Will Colbert.