What do you do if you are a club performer about to step on to the stage at a packed arena? Well, you try to turn the arena into a giant club, of course.
This was pretty much the approach taken by rappers Future and Gucci Mane last night at the du Arena. The artists were drafted in as last-minute replacements for Travis Scott, who pulled out of his after Abu Dhabi F1 After -Race concert for personal reasons earlier in the week.
While the disappointment from fans was palpable, particularly on social media, there was a lot of good will for both acts with the arena hosting a healthy sized crowd.
Not that the two artists don’t deserve the respect. No matter the circumstances of their Abu Dhabi arrival, both Future and Gucci Mane are seasoned stars of the hip-hop world, particularly the sub-genre of trap music.
Over separate 50-minute sets, the two headliners showcased the various sides of the vivid form and proved why it has become a mainstay of the pop charts and hip-hop clubs.
While sonically anchored by its complex drum patterns and urgent hi-hats, trap music has been used to evoke gritty street tales or to score extravagant and debaucherous tales of celebration.
Mane was energetic to a fault
Since Mane specialises in the latter, it made perfect sense for him open up the night with a high-octane show. Truth be told, he had no choice. With Mane a renowned hitmaker in the US, only a few of his anthems have managed to cross over to the region. Hence, why he is favoured at UAE clubs, rather than big arena concerts.
Perhaps he knew this. With his show lacking any production flair – just a large screen showing random images, including lots of his tattooed shoulders and jewellery collection – Mane had to go in hard and he indeed dropped his bangers Get the Bag, Back on the Road and Big Bricks at break-neck speed.
While the approach did a fine job of keeping the crowd hyped, it often came at the expense of his performance. This is a shame as Mane is charismatic on the mic. His calm and distinctive drawl allows him to sail over stuttering beats and bend and twist syllables to create unexpected rhymes. Last night, he jettisoned that smooth demeanour for unconvincing aggression. Without his signature vocal style, it just made him sound loud and obnoxious.
Fortunately, the Gucci we know and love made an appearance every now and then. In the percolating Freaky Girl, he was wickedly entertaining. For the big finish, he dropped Black Beatles, his massive 2017 hit with Rae Sremmurd. The crowd expectedly went wild and sang along with vigour. A few more tracks like that and Gucci Mane would next time be able to take care of the du Arena on his own.
Future in his biggest Abu Dhabi show yet
When it comes to Future, his first ever du Arena appearance is a rather ironic one as he is often the after-party than the main event. The Pluto rapper has performed regularly as part of the Abu Dhabi F1 festivities over the last five years, with shows at exclusive after-parties held at indescribably late hours.
That bond he has with UAE audiences, not to mention more than a dozen hits in his back pocket, made his set extremely solid. Where Mane showcased the party side of trap music, Future's songs focus on the bleaker lyrical aspects of the form with unforgiving tales of crime and betrayal. But it is all done with Future's imitable style. Tracks such as his Drake collaboration Jump Man and Same Damn Time make use of his ragged and narcoleptic flow which is an instrument of his own.
Such a voice allows him to play with mood throughout his set. He can move from being boisterous, with the momentous King is Dead, to brilliantly intense with the barrelling Commas.
With Future’s international stature only on the rise, he also needs to step up the finer aspects of his stage show, particularly his use of dancers – if you can call them that. For the last year, Future has toured with a small troupe of hip-hop dancers who keep wandering in and out of the show at weird intervals and dancing to a rhythm all their own. The only charitable view I can provide is perhaps Future is trolling us and making a subtle remark on the calculated state of pop music today, but that’s a long stretch.
While it wasn’t the poor concert experience that some had predicted, having two artists perform separate sets of equal lengths did detract from providing a fully rounded show. Both Future and Gucci Mane availed themselves relatively well, but – due to no fault of the organisers – it did not feel like the mammoth after-race concert experience we are used to. The sentiment was summed up best by a fan on the front row who came to the concert in a 2018 Travis Scott world tour shirt. On the back it read, "wish you were here".
Two more shows to go
The Abu Dhabi F1 After-Race concerts continue at du Arena with US torch singer Lana Del Rey performing tonight and The Killers will headline on Sunday, December 1. To attend the concerts, you need to have a ticket for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Tickets are available online from Yas Marina Circuit.