Various pockets of Madison, Wisconsin have spent the last two months anticipating headline shows from Future and Fetty Wap in a schedule anomaly: two of the highest-profile rap artists of the last year-and-a-half, in the same downtown concert hall, three days apart, during Black History Month. When you consider Future’s Purple Reign Tourbeginning in Madison over Chicago or Milwaukee, the whole backdrop becomes stranger by the passing second. More artists are picking up on Wisconsin’s capitol city: a city with a bubbling rap underground where high schoolers are receiving national attention while dealing with the same strain of casual systemic oppression that causes venues to ban the genre if one person sneaks a gun past security or starts a fight one night.
Why Fire Marshall Future - the hottest MC of the last year-and-a-half - began his route here is one of several mysteries of last night.
The first visible mystery: why the fuck were all these white men wearing these assorted basketball jerseys? Did “Jersey” ring off in the club that much and I missed it all? Never the matter, for white men were overwhelmingly the demographic per usual for almost any Madison rap show. But that Madisonian tension was fully in the building: the type of tension where you can find a Black male in a Pelle Pelle jacket next to a high schooler with a golf hat low on their forehead next to a white sophomore on her Snapchat half the show. In Madison - ergo, in most of these United States - finding anyone Black at a rap show is a treasure hunt to potentially feel safer in the midst of kids huddling up to obviously smoke really bad reggie, make corny mainstream rap jokes, and say “nigga” at every opportunity because they believe it came with the price of admission.
Tonight did not deviate from normalcy.
The second mystery: why did Ty Dolla $ign touch the stage five minutes before the projected showtime of a prompt 8 p.m.? Donning a black leather jacket in pure rockstar fashion, Young Dolla Sign’s set was a quick and to-the-point 30 minutes spanning the hits - Or Nah, Paranoid, Irie, Blase - without many of the frills. In fact, the floor was two-thirds full by the time he ended.
Freeband Gang-signee Lil Donald - a man with 533 Facebook likes and a September mixtape called Freeband Loyal- was nowhere to be found despite being the alleged opener on the card, which probably accounts for the waves of late attendees who pregamed for much longer than they anticipated after all. This scheduling jump set the Orpheum ablaze with a confused energy since so many people missed Ty$, though they didn’t miss much; outside of a thrown joint, a TeeCee4800 appearance, the obligatory Taylor Gang shout outs, and (surprisingly) the only removed shirt of the evening, Ty$’ performance was very give-and-go as he breezed through highlights of the catalog in spite of Donald’s absence.
The team I came with kept asking whether or not the crowd would be as lit as Ty$ insinuates in the “Blase” video moshpit; he truly looked unafraid of death on-screen, but rest assured it was much too early to effectively crowd-surf any willing participants. The dry nature of this set may be the anomaly of this very tour should Lil Donald continue on to open first as intended; Ty$’ versatile repertoire will prove very useful down the stretch in setting the melodic vibes before Future Hendrix’s melancholy hit parade.
That hit parade was automatic from the moment “Thought It Was a Drought” stutter-stepped its way into our earlobes. It’s the type of live moment that makes you envision wearing Gucci flip-flops to do anything that makes you feel immaculate, even if they make no ergonomic sense in a live setting. The next one-two punch of “Move That Dope” and “Same Damn Time” let us know that we were not here to be trifled with, that Future the Wizard was here to grant us our wishes of wicked adventures. He’s spent years perfecting the anthems to turn over 1,500 humans to a church procession of the type of shameless, instantaneous glee that most of us thought came with that price of admission.
That very $47.50 admission fared steep on the collegiate pockets, but a five-screen behemoth set-up rode shotgun as Super Future quarterbacked his way through 70 minutes of selections across his mixtapes and retail releases. I’ve seen big screens utilized in piss-poor fashion to justify overpricing the ticket, but several audience members kept remarking how cool the shit looked.
And the images, much like Future’s career, consistently made arguably-uncool shit look really cool: dope on the scale, a white cop clutching his gun (instead of his taser) to approach us in his car, and five different probable-Instagram models bouncing ass at the same time. No image repeated no matter where the song choice decided to turn; it was clear that this stage became Future’s world to immerse us in through the glorious and the terrifying. We could be in a stripper joint with Percocets at our fingertips one moment, then front-row at a funeral the next. We even got the red screens with the falling $100 bills for “Fuck Up Some Commas” while Future stopped rapping around the third verse to give us that goofy-ass arm dance he’s been documented doing for months now.
While Future made a point to go all over the catalog of his recent mixtape tear, the third mystery made itself rather apparent early on: why couldn’t he maintain the energy after the first run of throwbacks? After generous runs through his initial trifecta - Monster, 56 Nights, Beast Mode- Future began hitting a wall through the deeper cuts of DS2where it was nowhere near as lit as the throwbacks in the beginning. Some moments fell victim to a mic that was neither properly leveled off, nor stable enough to stop cutting out in random moments. So much so, I continued to question whether or not a lip-synced screwjob was rearing its ugly mug. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case, but where the mic ended up fine, DJ Esco’s transitions became a bit choppy through later songs when several drops from WATTBAcuts were spoiled by laughable half-second slip-ups that screwed with the jolt listeners are supposed to get from songs like “Big Rings” and “Jumpman.”
I mean, how do you not play “Groupies” all the way through when it’s DS2’s hardest record, let alonecut “Where Ya At” off before we get to see a real-live Esco step for heaven’s sake?
By the time we got to “March Madness,” I had enough of a pause from not staring white people in the face - confirming the inevitable nigga-sing-along - to remember what this record means to Madison in particular whether it knows it or not. The first few seconds of the video showcased a newsclip from coverage of Tony Robinson: a biracial 19-year-old man who was murdered by Madison police officer Matt Kenney last year. Future’s show took place 18 days before the one-year anniversary of the shooting. It’s a very easy piece to miss in the video’s intro static collage; hell, I missed it completely until a few kids fro the juvenile detention center I volunteered in over the summer told me it was there. Who’s looking for that layer, especially when focusing on turning up to what many have joked to be the new Black National Anthem? One of the most lauded efforts in a discography many Black folks use to channel their fun and narrate the pain of their skin and environment?
Then I remembered the Madison residents - black, brown, white, and more - who marched in these streets chanting Tony’s name and crying for justice, the whitewashed sold-out crowd last night easily dissolves into fodder for the sickest joke this country has yet to finish. “All these cops shootin’ niggas, tragic!” serving only as irony rolling from the tongues of inebriated classmates who may have never heard Tony’s name in this city, let alone lending their bodies in the ongoing struggle for cops to actually stop shootin’ niggas. These same tongues that I tried my damndest to silence once Future played “Slave Master” some twenty minutes prior to this moment: a song I downright despise for existing because I knew it would spread to contexts like this, on top of being the weakest song on DS2. I told everyone around me to stop and not even dareto say it when some of them might have slave masters in their family. No one around me, at the very least, decided to sing along.
An easy pedestal for me to stand upon, given that I was complicit in fucking someone’s bitch in collective Gucci flip-flops at the top of this set and several times throughout. We’re all monsters on these hoes, I suppose.
The night went on, we dripped flavor on the traitors, and Future Vandross turned the ceiling to a sky of purple confetti as he closed out with “Perkys Calling” and the Purple Reigntitle track. By 10:15 p.m., the lights were up and DJ Esco was taking selfies with a small crowd of supporters who wanted to pay their respects to The Coolest DJ in the World who actually went 56 Nights crazy in a prison in Dubai with a hard drive. I asked why they didn’t play “Codeine Crazy” and he said he couldn’t control it. As I slogged to the lobby, I caught a glimpse of Ty Dolla $ign asking a white woman “are you 18?” before taking her and another white woman with him as he disappeared from the merch booth. Funny, as he asked specifically where the black girls andthe white girls were in the crowd earlier.
If this is truly Future’s peak, then we were the first snapshot of a victory lap that began where Russell Wilson graduated and will return to give commencement in three months. No one knew where Lil Donald was. No one got an encore. Someone left their DS2 collector’s edition bag with the DS2styrofoam inside and one of my friends picked it up to return it on the Facebook event (what a time for honest guys.) Despite the show ending on school-night timeline, I can’t say I left with my life changed. I knew what I came for and I got it. A Future show brings all walks of life in the name of the turnup, a curation of escapism that spares no vice to drown in chasing nirvana and running from demons. He did what he wanted cuz he’s poppin’ and that was a bit pricey for the execution, but this is not an opportunity to waste if you can afford to go and you can tolerate the crowd it may attract in your city.
I imagine Chicago and Milwaukee will be drastically different in size and scope, but I’m more than thankful for watching Future in Madison where so many oddities of his public storyline thrived at such a palpable fever pitch.