It sounds like the set-up for a joke: How many buzzing rappers can you fit on one stage in Brooklyn? The answer: A lot, apparently. Last night, at an event hosted by Scion as part of their ongoing Open Mic hip-hop concert series, Brooklyn’s the Knitting Factory played host to a rag-tag trio of artists with very little in common other than that they’ve been receiving more and more media attention in the last year, especially within the last few months. The three performers—Deniro Farrar, Ty Dolla $ign and Vic Mensa—each hail from a different (non-New York) part of the country and they each approach the world of hip-hop from a slightly askew angle, retaining certain core elements of the genre while mixing them with outside influences and experimental flourishes. Did I mention there were guests too?
The evening began with North Carolina’s Deniro Farrar, a tattoo-covered rapper who mixes the hard-headed, gnarled lyricism of Freddie Gibbs with the hazy, synth-filled aesthetics of cloud-rap. Emerging on stage wearing a hooded sweatshirt, the Charlotte-based artist opened his set with some a capella rhymes, sending a message to the crowd that he was more than heady beats and shout-along hooks. He quickly removed his shirt and started in on his set, which included the pounding “Days Go By” and Cliff Of Death stand-out “You Ain’t A G.” Standing on the lip of the stage, he was swift and defiant in his movements and delivery, but his comments between songs revealed a funny, self-deprecating side.
California’s Ty Dolla $ign was up next, taking the stage with two middle-aged horn players with matching hats and a few other surprises up his sleeve. While Farrar’s set had the intimate vibe of a private confessional, Ty’s stage show was a little bit more of a party: people danced, guests came and went, and Ty was the gracious host. Flying through hits like “Irie” and “Paranoid” off his acclaimed Beach House 2 mixtape, the long-haired singer also invited a couple friends on stage, including fellow California rapper Skeme and Chicago’s Fredo Santana, who performed a shortened version of his Kendrick Lamar-featuring track “Jealous.” Sporting an orange sweatshirt and a scowl, the young GBE associate artist held the stage like a veteran.
After Fredo left the stage, Ty started teasing that he was going to gift a wad of cash to “the loudest motherfucker” in the crowd. It was entertaining, but it’s the type of gimmick that an artist like Ty doesn’t even really need. His songs, which blend elements of R&B with the minimalistic ratchet thump of a producer like DJ Mustard, stand on their own, so his crowd-pleasing gestures—playing a bit of friend YG’s “My Nigga,” the horns, the cash giveaway—felt unnecessary.
Vic Mensa, the rapper behind INNANETAPE and formerly of the teenage rap-rock group Kids These Days, was the last performer of the night, and though the crowd had dissipated a bit after Ty, Mensa put on an energetic, freewheeling set for those who stuck around. Mensa played some new material, tracks off his new tape and even a section of a song from his old band’s “Don’t Harsh My Mellow.” Where Farrar grabs bits from electronic music and Ty has more than a hint of R&B to his work, Mensa is an often exhilarating mix of underground rap, jazz and rock. At one point, in a very rock star move, he dove into the audience, crowd-surfing for a moment before tumbling face-first to the ground. It was a very Vic Mensa moment: triumphant but still human.