As 5,600 people poured in to the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden for the I See You Tour Part 2 (Oct. 20), Funkmaster Flex spun what is in heavy rotation at New York City’s Hot 97 radio station and smacked talked to showgoers who had “garbage” favorites. To follow came restlessness for the evening’s headliner, Russ, who didn’t enlist an opening act. 

With his audience chanting “We want Russ,” the rapper-singer was skyrocketed to a high-rise podium for “The Flute Song,” and screams pervaded around his entrance. “Hands, up! New York City, jump,” Russ commanded. He raised both middle fingers and ran down swiftly to bounce above his moshpit for a performance of “Do It Myself.” Donning an abstract print button-down shirt, black denim and gaudy diamonds, the artist swung his signature shoulder-length locks into the piano-based song “Too Many.” 

“Y’all know [people say] New York crowds don’t get turnt up. They just be looking at you and sitting there. Have you heard that? Well, that’s a motherfucking lie, cause y’all just turnt up,” Russ barked. Red wolves began projecting behind his mic stand, and Russ appeared at home in the Big Apple. Feeding off his loyalists’ energy, the MC danced through his verses on the bass slapping “Willy Wonka” and “Yung God,” intensifying the concert moment. 

Russ performs on the Sahara stage during week 1, day 3 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 15, 2018 in Indio, Calif.

Hulu Theater’s fluorescent stage began blinking colors that resembled Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video, and Russ pounced across the stage to flow over the trap-tinged “Me You.” His fans leaped to their feet, encouraging his animated swagger. “Cherry Hill” created a more sentimental ambience, showcasing enough charisma to finesse the bops “Our Time,” and “Wife You Up.”

On a high from his latest LP, Zoo, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, Russ began flashing its artwork on MSG’s floor-to-ceiling jumbotrons — causing a grander stir throughout the venue. “If you know this [track], you a real day one fan,” the artist said as he cued in to “Someone to Drink With.” Russ’ vulnerable “Psycho, Pt. 2” made his devotees croon loudly, “She got me going psycho/ She got me going down,” bringing a beaming smile to the musician’s face.

Now in his feels, Russ’ set began screening pink flower petals falling, so it was only right to seize the moment and further swoon attendees. The poetic “Ain’t Nobody Taking My Baby” brought him buoyant praises, transitioning well into his vibey tune “Ride Slow.” 

Russ confessed over his microphone, “I’m still blown away by the [support and] passion. I’m going to have an honest moment with y’all… now there is all this fucking negativity [towards my art]. It is fucked up. When shit gets kind of hard, you are the safety net and backbone.” An ear-splitting crescendo from the mass floated as the anti-wishy-washy anthem “Pull the Trigger” looped. 

Catching his breath, Russ brought calm with the mellow Zoo offerings “Voicemail” and “Begging You.” Arm waves commenced from left to right. Even so, the definitive crowd pleaser was “Missin You Crazy,” a new love song about the one ex he’ll never quite get over. Shifting gears, the soloist lyrically aimed at all naysayers on “Back to Life,” telling NYC, “Hands up if you know how to bounce back from some fuck shit!” With high energy rampant, the bass-knocking “Flip” reminded Russ’ listeners that once you pick a side, you have to stay there. And, like his genre-blended catalog, his shows mashup unforeseen talent, too. 

“This game is full of a bunch of fake, wack, politic bullshit,” Russ began. “However, there is a handful of real ones. So, since we are in New York City, we have to bring out a young New York City legend… Joey BadA$$.” The viral smash “Devastated” thronged above, causing an uproar and spiking participation to Russ’ set. With the grounds raging for Joey, Russ took advantage and rapped, “Please don’t call my phone, I need some time/ Just to sit and think about my life” to rev up the song “Some Time.” 

For those becoming acquainted with his soundscapes, Russ shimmied to his underground hit “T-Pain,” which covered the popular “Can’t Believe It” by T-Pain and Lil Wayne. A Jagged Edge sample of 2000’s “He Can’t Love U” took Russ’ talents up a notch for the melodic and poetic “Serious” as he powered through vocally. The songster paused briefly to soak in the night’s full appreciation. In time, the two-stepping continued for the memorable aria “Maybe” and the ballad “Scared,“which encompassed a softer side of his musicianship. 

The Billboard Hot 100 entry “Losin Control” is his most successful recording to date, and Russ’ concertgoers shined cell phone lights as they sang every lyric toward him. Craftily, Esther Phillips’ lullaby “I Wish You Love” resounded into the smooth sample of her voice on Russ’ true-life breakup song “Goodbye.” This play on words appeared to be the experience’s closer. After signaling a thunderclap, Russ zapped out of sight behind a curtain, with supporters still enthralled. The listeners weren’t ready to let him go. 

Cries for an encore filled the space. “What They Want,” Russ’ first-ever Hot 100 single, unleashed and showgoers indulged by partying. Howling “What they want, what they want, what they want/ Dollar signs, yeah, I know it’s what they want,” Russ seemed to enjoy hearing fans’ deafening off-key rendition. Bowing for the masses, Russ closed by sharing, “Us artists are still regular people, so when shit might be fucked up in our heads at night, it is people like you that remind us, ‘Nah, I gotta keep going.’ So, God bless you.”

By Bianca Alysse Mercado for Billboard.com

About The Author

Bianca Alysse is an incurable music junkie, who lives for dance, art, and urban culture. She has worked alongside some of the most ingenious entertainment moguls. Her ink covered hands grabbed her BA in Journalism and ran to New York City.

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