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On Saturday night, Mandel Hall—a venue that routinely houses distinguished speakers, orchestral symphonies, and choral groups—was the site of something completely different: a bona fide hip-hop concert, complete with MCs and an onstage entourage.
This year’s fall concert, hosted annually by the Major Activities Board, featured two artists whose critical acclaim perhaps eclipses their fame. Kid Sister and Big Boi nevertheless demonstrated Friday night that they are both capable of commanding attention.
For a musician who has twice performed on the headlining stage of Lollapalooza, Kid Sister remains an artist who is still under the radar of many listeners. She is an Illinois native and has released one full-length album, her 2009 debut Ultraviolet. This came in the wake of a few successful singles, namely 2007’s “Pro-Nails,” which featured a cameo by another proud Chicagoan, one Kanye West.
Her set began around 8 p.m., and for approximately thirty minutes, Kid Sister was able to control the stage and delight the modest crowd that had assembled in Mandel Hall.
Her set began with “Right Hand Hi,” a single from Ultraviolet that is standard Kid Sis—a bubblegum-sweet upbeat tempo and coy delivery. Her set stage presence was playful and simply fun, echoing her musical style.
Kid Sister paused between songs to thank the crowd and to hype up the audience, especially those gathered directly under the stage. While she usually didn’t have too much to say, Kid Sister made up in stage presence what she lacked in loquaciousness. She held out the microphone to those in the front row, showed off her dancing abilities, and managed to get the crowd clapping both in time and in sync—quite a feat to orchestrate.
Also on her set list were songs like “Beeper” and crowd pleasers like “Control.” Naturally, Kid Sister had to include a few remarks about her hometown of Chicago before launching into “Pro-Nails.” By the conclusion of her set, Mandel Hall was filling, and the crowd was far more engaged than at the beginning of the night. However, the bulk of the audience was waiting for Big Boi’s performance.
Big Boi is one-half of Outkast, one of hip-hop’s most successful and critically acclaimed duos of the past decade, with a few Grammys to back that up. Earlier this year, Big Boi released a solo album, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, which debuted at number three on the Billboard charts. It was given glowing reviews from both mainstream and alternative outlets, and earned him a headlining slot at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Somehow, despite all of these accolades, it wasn’t enough to sell out Mandel Hall.
However, this wasn’t MAB’s loss—It was a loss for all those who skipped out on the show. Big Boi’s set was energetic, and the crowd was definitely enjoying every moment, as evidenced by their clapping, chanting, and dancing. With what can only be assumed to be his entourage accompanying him on stage, and an enormous projector that switched between music videos, montages, photos, and his logo, Big Boi transformed Mandel Hall with his own variety of Atlanta rap.
For his set, Big Boi drew heavily on his Outkast discography. Some of the most memorable portions of the night included hits like “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” Fans of Outkast’s older tunes weren’t forgotten either, as Big Boi also inclued songs like “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” “ATLiens,” “Rosa Parks,” and “Player’s Ball.” Big Boi even played his portion of “B.O.B.”—a song Pitchfork claimed was the top song of the last decade, and hearing it live certainly gave credence to the claim.
In contrast to Kid Sister’s bubbly style, Big Boi has a slick, Southern delivery. While Big Boi’s creativity is often overshadowed by his Outkast partner Andre 3000, his set showed that he isn’t lacking in innovation and has hits in his repertoire to prove it. During “The Way You Move,” students danced alongside Big Boi on stage, and the entire crowd was reminded why Outkast’s 2003 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was so popular and well-received in the first place—it’s a rare mix of entertainment and innovation.
Big Boi closed his set with his portion of the collaborative Purple Ribbon All-Stars’ hit “Kryptonite (I’m On It),” which was every bit as entertaining as it was in 2006 when it was first released. The crowd shouted for an encore, and Big Boi obliged.
Although MAB was able to curate an incredible show, the old adage, “You can’t please everyone,” still remains true. The student population at the University of Chicago is obviously diverse in their musical tastes, which means that it is extraordinarily difficult to find any performer to bridge the gap between fans of different genres. To anyone familiar with the works of Kid Sister, Outkast, and Big Boi, the night consisted of two solid sets rife with recognizable hits. And to anyone with an open mind, the show was at its core lively and full of danceable tunes.