Bourbon Facade

The Bourbon Theatre located at 1415 O St. on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A certain energy comes with a live performance. Maybe it’s the excitement of seeing a beloved artist perform the songs you’ve memorized, or maybe it’s the anticipation of discovering a song to add to one of your playlists. For me, it’s the feeling of being surrounded by people who share the same love for the performers. 

When the show starts, everyone in the venue — from the artists to the packed crowd — has the same energy, the same passion. It’s electric. However, few things can throw off the experience of a live performance like when one of these groups are out of sync with the rest. This out of sync energy is exactly what made Airpark: The Musical so utterly frustrating. 

Airpark: The Musical was a hip-hop collective held at the Bourbon Theatre on Nov. 30. The event aimed to bring five local hip-hop artists to the stage for a massive melding of styles. On paper, this is a great idea. Vono, HAKIM, Thayo and Black Caillou shared the stage in an attempt to collectively expand their fanbases, connect with other local artists and perform in front of a live audience.

There’s a reason why music festivals retain such a high level of popularity — music lovers are given the opportunity to see artists they already know and love, and find something new they can enjoy. However, it’s exceptionally damaging for everyone involved when the performances don’t go right. This is the root of Airpark’s problem.

The show, despite featuring incredibly passionate up-and-coming artists, often felt bogged down by other artists who seemed uninterested in the entire event. This was present from the very beginning of Airpark. Lincoln rapper Vono opened the show after being introduced as “one of the best lyricists in the Midwest” by the DJ. Vono was lyrically gifted, coupling catchy, high-energy choruses and verses with fast paced, high-intensity rap bars. However, he did very little to set himself apart in the over-saturated hip-hop climate. Vono spent his tedious set providing hyper-masculine bravado and discussing his wealth, rap skills, women giving him attention and a myriad of other painfully familiar tropes. 

The songs flowed from one to the next with next to no time between, often leaving the audience jarred by a nonstop barrage of bass-heavy, in-your-face songs that were played a bit too loud and mixed a bit too poorly for the venue’s sound system. Beyond Vono’s music, he lacked any form of real stage presence. He never actually introduced himself to the crowd, never told anyone where to find his social media or released music and, most damagingly of all, did little to build rapport with the audience. 

Even bringing out HAKIM, an accomplished artist in the local circuit, didn’t do much to engage the crowd at first. HAKIM, a well-known MC with a multitude of recent releases, seemed bored throughout his entire set. After arriving at the venue almost thirty minutes after the doors had been opened to the crowd, HAKIM performed a soundcheck and a short set. Then, he passed the mic back to Vono for a final joint song that both artists mumbled their way through.

For someone who is familiar with HAKIM’s music prior to this show, this show was so disappointing. HAKIM’s long form verses and simplistic hooks that mirror mainstream giants like J. Cole, felt like checkboxes that had to be hit before his time was up.

Despite this, HAKIM was a charismatic presence on stage. He kept the crowd engaged by asking for help singing his memorable, ultra-smooth hooks, or simply to “make some noise.” These simple gestures built a connection that stretched beyond anything achievable by the music alone.

The event paused for a brief intermission in which the DJ played a few contemporary songs and gave the audience time to mingle and socialize while the show’s crew set up for the second half of the show. 

Thayo brought the show to life as he dominated the stage during his set. Thayo, who welcomed each artist to the stage and functioned as somewhat of a host of the event, easily had the strongest grasp on what the room wanted to see that night. Thayo was personable from the jump, taking the time to maneuver from person to person across the venue to introduce himself before the show started and thank them for coming. He then invited some of those people by name to come closer to the stage for his set. Beyond his incredibly intimate nature, Thayo was laugh out loud funny, telling in-depth stories and jokes between songs that felt rehearsed and prepared, while at the same time having a loose and off-the-cuff feel to it. 

Thayo danced across the stage as he unleashed bombastic vocal inflections, paired with witty lyrics referencing cartoons like “Kim Possible” and “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.” Thayo had a clear musical story he wanted to tell and a strong grasp on the way that he wanted to tell it. Thayo’s highest points in his set were the low volume moments. He took time to sing slow and spacey ballads laid over heavy 808 drums. The crowd seemed to resonate with these moments as they repeated the lyrics when Thayo prompted them. By the time his set had concluded, the venue was swaying, dancing and singing along.

Thayo’s follow up, Black Caillou, was equally energetic. He was funny and personable on stage. He performed with a rapid fire lyrical style, paired with calm vocals. Then, he switched to high caliber 80s pop-inspired instrumentals, in which he laid more quick succession flows. 

The final artist slated for the show was babyzae, who didn’t perform because she was sick. This was disappointing because I was looking forward to a female rapper taking the stage, seeing as mainstream artists like Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat have become so prominent in the last year. 

All in all, Airpark: The Musical is raw potential. Artists like Black Caillou and Thayo shined and had a clear understanding of who they are, what they wanted to say and, even more importantly, what the crowd expected from them. Their songs often made the venue feel intimate and personal — like the show was a get together at a friend’s place rather than a rap concert. HAKIM and Vono, despite both being talented artists, either felt bored with the smaller crowd or they just needed more practice before taking the stage. I still would love to see these artists come together again and look forward to what they have in store.