27-year-old Atlanta rapper Lil Baby had “Sum 2 Prove” headlined for the first day of the Dreamville festival. Not only is Baby not originally from the festival venue in North Carolina, but he is also not signed to the Dreamville label, unlike the majority of the main artists on the lineup. Despite all of this, Baby owned the Shine Stage as if it were his own. Working hard not to miss a verse, he actually delivered the best performance of the night.
Being 20 minutes late is almost a given for any headliner at any major festival – something about anticipation that builds with the promise of a great performance. In Lil Baby’s case, that’s exactly what he did: a roar of about 50,000 erupted the moment he walked onstage, before he could even start rapping. The guitar chords of J. Cole’s “pride is the devil” played before Lil Baby took the stage sounded like a promise effectively kept, since Baby is a feature of the track. Sure enough, Baby’s lyrics, “Break it down, weigh it up, and pack it up,” played right after the rapper appeared on stage, his entrance as fast as his flow down the track.
Baby didn’t miss a beat during the song, or at any point during the show, for that matter.
Wearing a red suit and touring t-shirt, Baby didn’t break a sweat during high-energy performances of “Sum 2 Prove,” “Drip Too Hard” or “Woah.” He strutted side by side with an entourage of backing dancers who formed silhouettes around him, casting long shadows on the LED screen as they backed him up to the beat. They weren’t the only ones twerking – the crowd came alive with dances and mosh pits to the heavy trap beats and high heats accentuated by booming speakers. You could feel the heavy 808s rising from the ground and circling the entire stadium on tracks like “All In”.
Since Baby was so busy delivering flawless line after line, his scene relied on his visual display more than others before him. Images of his self-founded 4pF label (during “Yes Indeed) and barking dogs (during “My Dawg”) flashed in inverted color spectra. Intense lights sweeping through the crowd created a trippy strobe effect The crowd grew even more enthusiastic at this AV display, chanting lyrics like “Wah-wah-wah, bitch, I’m the baby” at the cue of pulsing fire effects.
Part of what made the gig so special was the deep connection fans had with Baby. The entire stadium could be heard singing in powerful unison, rallying around their love for the rapper’s music. On “Close Friends,” for example, they calmed down to sing with emotional reverence, as the song encapsulates the pain of heartbreak. Baby returned the favor, working hard to repay their love with his tireless rapping through the loaded setlist. It went from the bars of “On Me,” to the chorus of “Get Money,” to the verses of “Every Chance I Get,” with no more than a few seconds of pause between each. It was hard to believe the lyrics “I’m human, I’m not perfect” at times like this – when the only indication of his tension was Baby taking off his jacket as the concert warmed up.
As if unhappy with his performance so far, Baby promised he’d get the crowd pumped up before launching into the final two songs of the set: “Girls Want Girls” and “Freestyle.”
Lil Baby ended the show with a smile of gratitude, but the happy fans who left the Dreamville festival that night were sure they were the lucky ones to have seen such a dedicated performer in his element.
—Editor Alisa S. Regassa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @alisaregassa.