Waka Flocka Flame burns bright amidst a tired SuperJam lineup

by Ryan Snyder

Waka Flocka Flame gives a visceral performance at SuperJam. (photo by Latrish Mack)

If it’s June and there’s inflation in Greensboro Police expenditures, a bump in misdemeanor arrests, and a few more indiscriminate felonies than usual, it must be SuperJam. The annual fear and loathing of hip hop went down once again this past weekend at the Greensboro Coliseum, with attendance down around 25 percent from last year’s 16,000plus that’s likely attributable to a card bereft of a compelling headliner. This year’s lineup of Young Jeezy, Travis Porter and Waka Flocka Flame wasn’t sufficient to exceed last year’s Ludacris-led numbers or the Soulja Boy and Gucci Mane sellout before that. There was no Three-Six Mafia surprise. It was just another year, its 15 th year. Aside from the expected bird watching, there was still one good reason to be in attendance: to witness the emergence of Waka Flocka Flame as a legitimate performer.

The crux of SuperJam has always been more about what’s “now” versus what’s great in hip hop. It’s a pop radio event made for a pop hip-hop audience, pandering to the ephemeral tastes of an increasingly younger group of listeners in the latter installments, but there’s been little for the hardcore hiphop fan to be excited about. The OutKasts, Goodie Mobbs, Jay-Zs and Bone Thugs of the first few years feel like a part of antiq uity, those shows worn like a badge of honor by the people who saw them for the costunprohibitive ticket that SuperJam offers.

Since then — the last six years in particular — its been a pile of ringtone rap repeats:

Young Jeezy has performed four times in that period; throwaway party rappers Travis Porter have performed the last two years, including the penultimate spot this year; and Plies has made a pair of top-of-the-bill performances, including a pre-headlining spot last year in the embarrassing downswing of his career. Others with promise, like BoB last year, were relegated to mere cameos, though it’s fair to say that particular instance may have been more of a financial decision than any other.

SuperJam can also be a place where you can see the occasional artist mature as a performer, however, and Friday night’s chapter proved just that. This time last year, Waka Flocka Flame’s performance chops were as rough around the edges as his blood-ofthe-streets rhymes. His act was as desultory as the verses on his Lebron Flocka James mixtape were brutish. He looked lost on the stage as he wandered through the gang of loiterers that came out with him, unsure of how to engage the crowd in any way other than spraying lyrical violence like bullets.

This time around, so much has changed.

Things seem to have clicked for Flocka sometime in the last year, as the behemoth rapper commanded the audience. The size of his entourage hadn’t changed, but Flocka shone like the Shamash on a menorah. He had dove into the first few rows by his second song, whipping his shoulder-length dreads around as he shouted the words to “No Hands” and “O Let’s Do It.” He effectively brought every one of the more than 12,000 in the coliseum down into his immediate radius, pulling them in with his six-anda-half-foot wingspan and demanding they bobble wildly along with his grimy beats.

He’s not some new kind of emcee even if there’s an uncommon abstractness to his dash and carriage, but he is a refreshing throwback to the basest of gangster bards in a sea of softcore rappers. He’ll never be confused with a technician like J. Cole, but he is raw and primal, something that jabs at the core of rap music. It was unfortunate for the aforementioned Travis Porter that they had to follow Flocka, because their cotton-candy party jams like “Go Shorty Go” weren’t delivered with a fraction of the potency. They had their fans in the crowd and didn’t exactly phone their set in, but Flocka had effectively pulled the punk card of everyone to follow with his transformative effort. Even Young Jeezy, whose pitbull demeanor has become his calling card as much as the triple strand of pearls around his neck, seemed neutered in comparison.

He had pulled his shirt off by the time he came around with “Hard In Da Paint,” imperilously baring his ever-expanding paunch to the same kind of reaction that the preposterously ripped Ace Hood and Lloyd got from the ladies in the house. You might not identify with Flocka the way he identifies with bangers and dealers in both music and real life, but he’s proud to be a body-type iconoclast for the couchrat everyman. The once cut, still imposing Flocka acknowledged the round mound popping his belly tats out like a 3D movie as he glared out over the crowd. The sight recalled his recent “Ink, Not Mink” ad campaign on behalf of PETA, but also reminded that he’s come to stand for something besides bitches and Bricksquad: He’s a hip-hop star in the making and a future headliner in his own right.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan