Young Thug excites MAC Center with electric FlashFest performance

Young Thug performed in front of a light show in the MACC at FlashFest on Thursday, April 11, 2019.

Henry Palattella

Fifty-eight minutes into his set at at FlashFest, Young Thug wanted the crowd gathered in the M.A.C. Center to be quiet. Thug, who had just finished singing “Pick up the Phone,” was asking for a moment of silence in memory of fallen rapper Nipsey Hussle. Nine hours ago, he had been in Los Angeles for Hussle’s funeral. Now he was in Kent asking a gym full of rowdy college students to remain peaceful so they could keep his memory alive. 

And they did.

Outside of some quiet murmuring and the static of a walkie-talkie, a quiet hush remained over the M.A.C. Center as Thug walked around on the stage in quiet contemplation. After preforming what was his smash hit single “Best Friend,” he had the crowd put its lighters up one last time, said the word “slime” and walked off stage, putting the finishing touches on an electrifying experience.  

The night hadn’t always gone as smoothly as that, though. About two hours before doors opened, Undergraduate Student Government announced Soulja Boy, Young Thug’s co-headliner, was arrested for a probation violation earlier that morning and would not be attending. Soulja Boy’s spot was filled by DJ Pauly D, who gave an encore after performing as an opening act on the Student Green.

The performances opened with a strong set from Cleveland’s DJ Topgun and Freshie. Despite starting behind schedule, the duo set the tone immediately, jumping up and down on stage and interacting with a crowd that still seemed to be processing the lack of Soulja Boy.

While almost no one knew any of the lyrics to any of Freshie’s songs, his powerful stage presence, combined with his shouting the catchphrase “dirty” with almost any chance he got, kept the audience engaged and happy, two things that can be extremely hard to lesser-known opening acts.

Pauly D’s set wasn’t as engaging, but it’s tough to blame him considering he wasn’t planning on doing a second set. While there were some lulls in the crowd’s enthusiasm, he played a good mix of songs that tried to appeal to a vast taste in music. Both Pauly D and DJ Topgun played “Old Town Road,” the viral hit by rapper Lil Nas X to hype up the crowd (DJ Topgun opened it, Pauly D mixed it in halfway through his set. Both times it was met with raucous applause.)

But it was Young Thug’s dynamic, energetic performance that stole the show. From the minute he walked on stage, it was clear he was going to give the audience his all. After stepping on stage, he took a drink out of two stacked Styrofoam cups and broke into his hit song “Wyclef Jean.” Thug was joined on stage by Lil Duke, a rapper signed to Thug’s YSL record label. Duke served as Thug’s hype man for most of the night, doing everything from rapping along to splashing the crowd (and a certain reporter) with water.

Thug also displayed the range of his discography and played hits like “Lifestyle” and the aforementioned “Best Friend,” while also playing some deeper cuts like “Slime Shit” and “Family Don’t Matter.” 

While it’s not the biggest venue, the M.A.C. Center has seen its fair share of famous rappers for FlashFest, ranging from 2 Chainz to Rae Sremmurd (twice) to Kid Cudi. Thug cemented his name among them, as his performance was part rock show, part rap concert, part everything else.

Everything Thug did felt genuine, and the cool visuals and solid sound mixing added to the power of the show. Thug’s tribute to Nipsey Hussle also felt wholly authentic; Hussle’s death has shaken the rap community, and it was incredibly powerful and refreshing to see a major artist like Young Thug bring that emotion to a concert where he easily could have phoned it in.

Thug’s show was the definition of a concert doubling as an art performance. As he says on “Family Don’t Matter”: “Everything go smooth for me, like I got my Masters.”

Henry Palattella is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].