Much of what you need to know about hip-hop in 2018 was on display Monday in Omaha when Travis Scott hit the CHI Health Center stage for a high-energy, crowd-pleasing 80 minutes.
First and foremost, hip-hop is undeniably the most popular music form. Scott’s “Sicko Mode," the show closer, was the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart as of Monday (it dropped to second when new charts were released Tuesday) and “ZEZE,” his collaboration with Kodak Black and Offset, was at No. 7 before sliding down a slot.
Scott’s “Astroworld” album — which gives his tour its name and production theme, based on the failed amusement park in his hometown of Houston — is at No. 8 on the Billboard Top 200 chart this week, having peaked at No. 1. It’s been certified platinum, as in over 1 million in physical copy sales and primarily “album-equivalent units,” the compilation of streaming service plays.
That brought more than 12,000 to the arena Monday, almost entirely aged 30 and under, with a huge contingent of late teens and early 20-somethings, split between men and women, a crowd that reflects a consolidation of pop and hip-hop audiences.
It’s also notable, in the Instagram/TMZ culture, that Scott’s “partner” is a famous-for-being-famous Kardashian. He and Kylie Jenner may or may not be married, which keeps them in internet gossip — the better to sell tickets.
The show itself had more production than any hip-hop concert I’ve seen in 30 years of arena rap shows, from Run-DMC, Public Enemy and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince to Eminem, Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar.
Opening on the B-stage at the back of the arena (which sent the floor general admission standees running south) Scott was surrounded by pyrotechnics and fog, then jumped onto a loop roller coaster for a song.
Later, a scrim descended from the rafters, serving as a projection screen for a three-song salute to Houston and, on “Yosemite,” a giant inflatable astronaut appeared behind Scott and opener Gunna, who joined him for the song.
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Then came an instrumental so Scott could be strapped into roller coaster No. 2 — an arena spanning track that Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee has, now that I’ve seen it, rightfully claimed as a ripoff of his trademark roller coaster. (Don’t worry too much, Tommy, yours was way cooler).
Throughout the show, a giant projection screen showed videos tied to the “Astroworld” theme and side screens followed Scott, providing close-up views for what would have been a tiny figure for most in the arena.
The set list, not surprisingly, was dominated by “Astroworld” songs. It did, however, contain a few songs from his previous two albums and at least one mixtape number, “Drugs You Should Try It.”
Scott’s hazy rap is dominated by a thundering club beat and heavy bass, so loud Monday that those on the floor reported it was near impossible to make out anything coming from Scott over the bass. That wasn’t the case in the stands.
But, over 80 minutes, the songs felt a tad monotonous and more than a bit repetitious, starting with a blast of energy from Scott and the crowd then trailing off until the next one began.
That, however, didn’t seem to hit the audience. The crowd jumped around so hard the stands shook, thrusting their hands in the air at Scott’s urging. That’s as much pogoing as I’ve seen in one place.
Scott’s music is tough to precisely pigeonhole. But the night’s two openers, Gunna and Sheck Wes were solid proponents of trap, the hip-hop style of the moment.
The third scheduled opener, Triple Redd, quit the tour last week, reportedly in a dispute over stage setup. That led to a long wait before Scott took the stage. That, too, for good or ill, is hip-hop on tour.