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Kevin Gates Exceeds Expectations at New York City Show [EXCLUSIVE]

Taylor Hill, Getty Images

Kevin Gates lit New York City’s Gramercy Theatre on fire Wednesday night (Aug. 20). The Baton Rouge, La., rapper was fierce onstage, especially following the mellow Chevy Woods. Despite having an incredibly loyal fanbase across the country, Gates still exceeded every possible expectation on the East Coast.

At the start of his set, he crept out to the middle of the stage wearing all black. Initially hidden from sight, his first mumbles into the microphone received bursts of shouts from the crowd as they awaited his performance. An underwhelming set from Woods had rap fans in the crowd hoping there was more in store.

When the music began playing out of the speakers, Gates was still. He stood at the front of the stage, square in the middle, and didn’t move. A beat began building, heavy with bass loud enough to shake the THC from Chevy’s sleepy set, and quietly, Gates started emitting words. One hand gripped the opposite arm while the other hand extended the index and middle finger with a perpendicular thumb, like a gun. His words were hard to make out as he stood as still as the microphone in front of him. It sounded like the groggy first verse of ‘MYB,’ but it was hard to make out (though it’s corroborated by Noz’s recount of a recent Gates show). The whole room was rapt.

Slowly, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon , Gates broke out of his shell with measured movements. He rolled through ‘Arm & Hammer’ before introducing ‘4:30am’ and revealing that the lady who picked him up off the block — perhaps the girl who “stole a Jag” to come get him in the song — was backstage. He began the first verse calmly, but when he started addressing a partner who wasn’t there when he was “slumped over,” he exploded, knocking over the mic stand and heating up the room with unexpected energy. Then he was calm again, at least until the apex of the song in the second verse — “Bitch get up and get out!” He had the crowd in the palm of his hand, and was only three songs in.

From there, it was a game of leapfrog: a chorus here, a verse there, jumping from one song to the next with little interruption. Gates told his DJ to give him “some more s—,” and another beat rolls out. The sound man kept drowning out parts of records in that gurgling, Yeezus-esque bass from before. Gates then gave the sound man his props.

This is Kevin Gates’ first show in New York City — or at least the first one he’s headlining. He performed for XXL’s 2014 Freshman Class gig earlier this summer, but last night, the Gramercy Theatre marquee read only “KEVIN GATES TONIGHT.” He’s grateful for the opportunity, and about three quarters of the way through the show, he jumped offstage and walked through the entire crowd while rapping.

“Can I tell y’all a secret, New York?” he asked as he stood in the middle of the room, almost lost in the sea of surrounding people. “If you like a rapper and you can’t touch ‘em, he ain’t real. Take his jewels,” he said as some clawed at his garments. He’s unfazed, never returning to the stage and soon after ending the show by thanking all the fans that came out. He went from standing still at the mic, mumbling, to tearing through throngs of fans, without missing a bar.

His live performance epitomizes his enthralling body of work — call it “emotional trap.” He can talk about stinging heartbreak and non-stick pans for whipping work, all in the same verse — almost like Drake. “I get mad, cry, get pissed onstage,” he claimed at the start of the show. He carries himself with a quiet intensity, as if he wants you to hear every word, and if he sees you not listening, he’ll smack the s— out of you right there. New York rap crowds love that charisma.

But New York rap crowds are also hard to please, especially if you’re a southern rapper (right, Big K.R.I.T.?) When the show ended, it was if the air had been sucked out of the room. The audience wanted more of the artistic enigma that is Kevin Gates. The performance is as personal as his music. A good conversation always ends too soon.

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