Perhaps Kevin Gates doesn’t get as much credit as he should. You have multiple other artists — specifically Drake and Kanye West — subverting and disintegrating the image of the hard-as-diamond man. But what of Gates, who’s admittedly not as welcoming of a figure with that compass between his eyes and the two tattooed teardrops — usually a sign of some unspeakable sin? His background in bloodied concrete isn’t a secret, but what’s also his signature is his capricious sensibility and transparency that fluidly attaches to his songs’ sticky melodies and sneaky accessibility. While West and Drake’s appeal transformed into something more prolific, Gates’ remains humanistic, a trait that came through crystal clear in his New York concert last night (Aug. 20).
After a short wait following Chevy Woods’ set, Gates took the stage in New York City’s Gramercy Theater for his first ever headliner in the city. “I don’t get tired!” chanted a hungry, ready-to-consume crowd. A gothic Gates dressed in black straddled on to the stage with an unnerving normalcy and positioned himself as a singular figure to croak one of his most brooding cuts — “MYB” sans Starlito — while the Bread Winners Association crew backed him with their militaristic stance.
This was a misleading opener, however. This wasn’t going to be a night where Gates would awe his audience — too simple. Rather, he used his gravitational charisma to transform a theater into a communal environment, albeit a high-energy one. Gates has referred to the “audience” in interviews as “extended family.” If he’s family, Gates is the amicable uncle who pulls the young ones — the crowd, in this case — by the neck in a manner that’s both endearing and urgent, to let you know he means business before a conversation. Here, Gates’ hand is subbed out for an in-the-moment intensity. How else does one describe the crowd’s immediate response to when he suddenly tossed that mic stand to the side to bark “4:30 AM’s” most cathartic moment: “Where was you when I was slumped over?!/Gums hurting from a old bullet, in front the toilet while hunched over.”
Gates chanted, “I don’t get tired!”, which quickly revealed itself to be his M.O. than a simple calling card. He stopped periodically for an occasional shoutout to those seated in the back and to appreciate the New York crowd (“New York just don’t fuck with anybody”), but, for the most part, he tackled his bangers with a tight efficiency. Don’t just chalk this up to his known workmanship, though. The continuity was both therapeutic and a call to music as a universal communicator:
Gates recalls coming home to nothing and his friend daring him to put him in the song after a car dispute. He performs “Smiling Faces,” which references the moment. The song cuts off. There’s slight disgust in his face. Next song.
During the sexual “Would You Mind?”, Gates temporarily undoes his belt as if he’s picturing a beauty in front of him. “Whoa,” a few folks respond. He means business. Next song.
Gates performs “Thinking With My Dick” after the faux-arousal. He’s noticeably enjoying himself. Gates is an intellectural, but he’s also a guy. Next song.
“Ohhh, he’s looking tired now,” a fan jokingly notes while Gates is taking a very short breather. He then pulls out banger, “Get Up On My Level.” He’s suddenly Achilles at the River Styx with BWA guarding his heel. Next song. (He would later take a sip of water: “I said I don’t get tired. “I ain’t say, ‘I don’t get thirsty.’” Fair.)
The crowd was with Gates throughout the duration of the performance. He made that connection physical when he jumped into the crowd after “Satellites.” Again, this was a communal space. He strolled to those seated in the back as “Out The Mud” blared from the speakers, which exploded with bass-heavy bacchanal — a constant trick during his songs’ climaxes.
Gates made his way to the left then back to the stage and again toward the back of the venue as the extended family continued to flock to his direction.
Gates performed “John Gotti” before saying his goodbye. “I love the fuck out ya’ll, New York!” He then sneaked through the exit. Somewhat anti-climactic, but he’ll be back for more.