Hot 97 radio station’s Who’s Next series show at S.O.B.’s is typically where promising musical newcomers parade their cosigns and perform for NYC’s often brutal audience of music aficionados. Last night (Nov. 14th), 30 minutes after the proposed showtime, the DJ dropped Belly’s instrumental to his recent tape’s title track, “Mumble Rap.” Now enthralled, the venue’s attendees became so boisterous, brawny security guards had to part fans like the red sea– for the rapper’s first-ever New York headlining performance.

Within seconds, the flustered mob began vying for elbow room. The XO emcee strolled inconspicuously through the now hammered-out path while cameras flashed. Donning a bulletproof-esque vest, vintage sunglasses, an embezzled XO chain, and a man bun, Belly did not appear intimidated by the limelight in the slightest. His Roc Nation family watched carefully from below the left stage, as the rapper barked, “New York City, y’all ready to turn up for me or what?” And, the ruckus commenced throughout the bass-filled verses of “Mumble Rap.”

Belly

Still, this celebration was purposeful. Belly diligently articulates his socially conscious messages far beyond north of the border. He questioned, “Where all my immigrants at?” The masses raved in agreement as he continued, “If you ain’t an immigrant, I know your parents [are] immigrants.” Through jumps and applause, Belly exemplified how proud he is of his Palestinian roots, as he exuberantly spit his bars over “Immigration to the Trap.” The melting pot of showgoers danced under his command.

“The man who taught me how to speak English was named Biggie Smalls,” he professed. “When I bought Ready To Die I was speaking broken English. I dragged my mom to the store to buy the CD for me. There was a baby on the [album] cover, so she agreed,” he continued with laughter. His onlookers were equally amused before Belly concluded, “Factual! That album taught me everything I need to know… from the language to the music, to the rap shit, to everything. And, being right here in New York, the same place where my motherfucking English teacher is from… is a dream come true for me. You know, the come up is so real.”

With sexually suggestive expressions, Belly set the tone with the SWV-sampling record “The Come Down Is Real Too.” Now acclimated, Belly was equally animated when performing “Bobby Brown,” “Man Listen,” and the ladies anthem, “P.O.P.” And, when the crowd participation nearly became too riotous, he seized the moment on “Trap Phone,” with a surprise guest, Jadakiss. The photographers returned to mushing one another to capture a closer glimpse of the Yonkers mogul.

Soon, Latin horns were blaring and Belly showcased salsa moves that were threatening DJ Khaled’s skills, for the song “Consuela.” The humor was swiftly diffused, though. It was back to lyricism, with the Travis Scott-assisted earworms “Money Go,” and “White Girls,” as Belly forged ahead with impressive a capella breaks. A digital backdrop of strippers and ballerinas became intertwined while he carried out his smash, “Ballerina.” Fans enthusiastically clapped over the rhythm in unison.

Overwhelmed with emotion, Belly proposed a toast and popped open a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne to share with his loyalists surrounding the nearby speakers. The club banger, “Make a Toast,” shook the walls, as devotees yelled, “They mad I’m styling when I come around/ Shoutout to Pun I’m trying to live, I lost a hundred pounds.” Big Punisher’s image flashed above everyone’s heads, and S.O.B.’s was suddenly frenzied. There were some questionable notes hit while the crowd belted the chorus to Pun’s classic “It’s So Hard.” “I had to do that in New York, Rest in peace, Big Pun. [He’s] another one of my teachers,” Belly admitted.

But, the homage continued for a chronic break to Bob Marley’s “Jamming.” After Belly lit a blunt, he told the mass, “I want to light this whole fucking building up. If you have a phone in your pocket, light that shit up. If you have lighter in your pocket, light that shit up. If you have two sticks, rub them shits together, and light this bitch up. Light that [blunt] up. Fuck what security is talking about.” Determined to move more than anyone in attendance, Belly braced devotees for his finale.

“If it ain’t XO, then it gotta go,” the crowd chanted, right before the XO founder himself surfaced from the right stage. The Weeknd brought the crowd to a fever pitch as he sang out “Might Not.” A convulsion of women forced their way from the back of the room to launch their camera phones in his direction. He was courteous enough to oblige a few, posing and spinning for several charismatic videos. The Weeknd even shimmied as Belly previewed his thus-untitled upcoming trap poetic, capping a triumphant first-impression set for the rapper, with a potentially potent upcoming single.

By Bianca Alysse Mercado for Billboard.com 

Images: Billboard

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