There’s something about those small venues that create the perfect intimate experience. Of course, being in a stadium packed with fans yelling the lyrics like a massive living thunderstorm is an adrenaline rush. But being up close to the artist you came to see just feels more rewarding. There is no space between the stage and the audience, and those who arrived at the Belasco Theater in Downtown Los Angeles were able to stand within inches of Pusha T. Opened in 1926, the Belasco is a historic theater that has been renovated for the modern crowd but still holds that old-fashioned aesthetic.
The crowd that filled the theater ranged from young to old, and varying skin tones and cultures squeezed together to hear Pusha’s tales from the hood. Hustling and drug dealing meant something more when Pusha was on stage. Yes, many rappers are lauded by hip-hop fans for their braggadocious and violent stories while being attacked by those who don’t understand the culture. But the crowd at the Belasco Theater wasn’t filled with drug dealers, gang bangers, or any of the characters that riddle Pusha T’s songs. That’s because much like any other form of entertainment, such as movies, tv shows, and novels, hip-hop is about selling a story. Pusha was the Thanos of this Summer. Much like the Mad Titan, Pusha spent years building up his appearance, attacked with the ferocity of a calculated king, and caused the biggest fallout within his industry. Just like we’re still talking about the “snap,” we’re still dealing with the fallout of “Infrared” and “The Story of Adidon.” Just like any blockbuster film with a great script, Pusha created a masterpiece with DAYTONA. He stepped onto the stage with the full energy of Thanos, and the audience loved it.
When the former Clipse member hit the stage, the crowd pushed towards his presence forcing everyone in the theater together. Pusha split his set into several parts. He performed his album in order, but split it in half. After opening with “If You Know You Know,” which set the crowd ablaze, he performed “The Games We Play” and “Hard Piano.” After completing the first three songs of the seven-song album, he reached back to his My Name Is My Name project for “Numbers On The Boards.” He also pulled out a couple G.O.O.D. Music assisted bangers such as “Mercy” and “I Don’t Like.” On stage, Pusha stood in the center of a box created by four light poles. Standing at maybe seven foot tall were the long skinny poles, two placed at the front of the stage, and two planted directly behind them in the back. Another large slim light was propped in the air horizontally above Pusha, while a smoke machine shrouded the stage in mystery at random intervals. The light and smoke combination wasn’t awe-inspiring, but it added an energetic touch to songs that sound like colors. For example, the lights turned red and the smoke billowed beneath Pusha’s feet during his performance of “Infrared.”
Pusha returned to DAYTONA with “Come Back Baby,” and performed the remaining three songs on the album. In the packed Los Angeles theater, fans sat in anticipation of a big guest appearance, but none arrived. Pusha and his DJ rocked the entire show by themselves, which made me wonder why such a cinematic album would lack a live band performance. Push did bring a young boy on stage, that he had seen the night before performing at The Observatory in Santa Ana. The Observatory sits right near the border of Los Angeles County and Orange County, and Pusha was able to locate the boy through a social media hunt, after he connected with the kid’s energy during his performance.
After completing “Infrared,” Pusha left the stage, but came back for a brief encore. He pulled out another G.O.O.D. Music track, performing his verse on “Feel the Love,” before speaking with the crowd. He assured the theater that DAYTONA was the album of the year, which was met with cheers of agreeance. After a spirited performance, that was only dampened by the lack of a live band, Pusha T made a rapid exit, but not before leaving an impression on all of his fans. “I love you, Los Angeles,” he exclaimed. LA requited the emotion.