I strode into the legendary Viper Room last Friday hoping to see a no-frills r&b and hip-hop show. No vocals drowned in reverb, no experimental song structures or genre-mashing plays for Pitchfork love. Those things are great, but I wanted some red meat.
I was not disappointed. The show kicked off with a rapid fire set from L.A.-based rapper and DJ DeLon, who has been in the game for over a decade. I’d checked out his music online ahead of time and was a big fan of his mix of 90s era reverence (think Nas, late-career Rakim, KRS) with bombastic modern production and exceedingly catchy choruses.
The highlight of the set was most-recent single “For Real” from his soon-to-be released EP, Awake. The song rails against consumerism with a supremely catchy chorus featuring a pitched up vocal and a classic ‘nah nah nah’ refrain. This one hit me in the heart.
DeLon’s lyrics cut through surprisingly well despite a rambunctious crowd and busy nearby bar service. He performed like the seasoned pro he is, and left to loud-ass applause from an crowd that largely hadn’t heard of him.
The crowd—many dressed to the nines—calmly waited for headliner Eric Bellinger to take the stage. And waited. And waited.
When the curtains reopened, a dj started playing recent hip-hop hits while prepping the crowd for Eric’s entrance. It really seemed like he was coming out in like, five minutes. That didn’t happen.
That said, this was one of my favorite parts of the show. As songs like ‘Blasé’ blared through the house, we all started to dance and sing along—it was borderline communal, ritualistic. The dj who’d been sent to warm us up had done just that. We were pumped now.
The next notable act was Victoria Monet, a very strong singer with serious if sparingly used dance moves. She played mesmerizing original songs that sounded like radio-ready FKA Twigs cuts.
She also mixed in Vine-spawned hits like “Hit the Quan” that kept us all in-step with her too-brief set. Definitely made a fan out of me.
Finally our headliner. We all know the disappointment of hearing a hot singer on a hot song, only to realize they can’t pull it off live.
Eric Bellinger is not one of those singers. This cat can saaaaang. More than a little. He ran through obvious hits from recent albums Cuffing Season and Cuffing Season pt 2. Including “Focused on You”, “Valet” and my favorite, “Overrated”.
The set was extremely well-paced. Just as the audience would get tuckered out from uptempo hit after hit, he’d slow it down and flex his vocal chops over a heart wrenching ballad. Then he’d go right back to partying, including a surprisingly fresh take on “This is How We Do It”, the song overplayed at mitzvahs the world over.
His show featured a bevy of guests whose names I missed, but who performed ably. There was palpable energy on the stage and in the room. You could almost feel everyone’s troubles lifting away as Mr. Bellinger tore through a set featuring a modest costume change, gleeful stage jumps(the calorie burn alone made this show worthwhile), and old-school professionalism.
As the show ended and the last Snaps were sent, we funneled out of the room laughing and feeling rejuvenated. Each artist had given it to us straight-no-chaser.
Listen to Eric Bellinger’s Dabbin On Christmas EP.