With Pharrell Williams, Yelawolf, Penguin Prison, Caligula, Heroes x Villains, Tamara Sky, and a million others
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Better Than: Getting stuck outside.
Somewhere around 2 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning, in a rainstorm of cheap beer and a mosh pit to Metallica's "Master of Puppets," Basel Castle officially became one of The Most Fun Parties of Art Basel Miami Beach week. Oh, and that was in the middle of a set by Yelawolf, one of the Next Great Rap Saviors who hails from various points across the South. No big deal.
After all, the main promoters behind Basel Castle -- The Overthrow -- specialize in events that mix up subcultures, subgenres, and scenes. So Yelawolf, with his alt-pinup-boy good looks, post-skateboarder style, tattoos, but serious love for bass-driven hip-hop, was the perfect mascot for this gleefully mixed crowd.
He also gave the rowdiest and most riveting performance of a night that reached critical mass relatively early for Miami. Basel Castle's reputation from last year preceded it, perhaps, and the event reached capacity before 11 p.m., with hundreds of RSVP-ed hopefuls turned away at the door. (Those who stuck it out, though, eventually all pretty much got in. Patience wins.)
Inside, there were more toys from shiny sponsors -- you could play with some kind of DJ setup in the back of a Hyundai -- and even more works from big-name artists. The carnival-style midway from last year returned, this time including a balloon-popping game designed by Ron English, who hung out watching partiers play. The other big boldface addition was, of course, official host Pharrell, who appeared to introduce his local protege, genre-crossing singer-songwriter Cris Cab.
At least one other first: After a DJ set by The Rapture, New York buzz band Penguin Prison performed live for its first-ever show in Miami. (The group had, however, come down in October for a special Halloween DJ set at the Dream Hotel.) The set was full of easy disco grooves and soulful crooning.
It was, by nature, approximately 50 energy levels below the evening's headliner. Much of the credit for the crowd's hype level goes to DJ team Heroes x Villains, who anchor The Overthrow's Atlanta parties, and who jumped on for a short set between Penguin Prison and Yelawolf. Their selections were unapologetically hard and rattling, with hypemen encouraging chant-alongs to songs by Waka Flocka Flame, Juicy J, and Bonecrusher, mixed in with the odd heavy bass track and a dubstep version of Kanye and Jay-Z's "Who's Gon Stop Me."
Yelawolf finally strolled out at 1:30, just 10 minutes after his scheduled start time (which made him at least an hour early by hip-hop show standards). Kicking things off with the booming, sung-rap "Let's Roll," he spitfire-shouted his way through a selection of tracks like breakout hit "Daddy's Lambo" with nary a pause. His breath control was impressive, but most notable was that he kept things moving, without the stopping, starting, and general narrative confusion that marks many rap shows. Even more unusual -- he had no hypeman, able to actually finish the ends of his own lines.
What he did have in onstage support, though, was Miami's golden child DJ Craze. Rather than just play the tracks, Craze added a subtle flavor throughout the performance with scratches and other tricks. Halfway through, Yelawolf even gave Craze his own time to shine, with a five-minute routine that touched on plenty of wub-wub dubstep and ended with the crowd getting sprayed with water.
The beverage spraying continued into the next segment, when Yelawolf wanted to share a little bit of his musical background. "I see a lot of different kinds of people out there, and I think we grew up on the same shit," he said. Cue a Yela-led mini-dance party that skipped through the Doors, Johnny Cash, Outkast, Eminem, and, yes, Metallica, with sweat and spewing PBR cans flying.
The rest of the set continued with the same crowd-pleasing frenzy. Before "Marijuana," we were instructed to make some noise for Yela's weed-growing mother. Before "Love is Not Enough," his closest song to a ballad and the only slow-ish number of the night, there was a group chant of "Fuck that bitch." Who? Well, everyone has "that bitch" somewhere, right?
Besides showing up on time and rapping by himself, Yelawolf did another weird thing. After the announced last song, "Good to Go," he actually stopped. No planned encore. That was kind of a bummer. But with both the performer and his crowd totally wiped, it was another sign of Yelawolf's sharpness as a performer. Better to leave us clamoring, and filing away the we-saw-him-when memories for the future.
The Crowd: Gold grills, tattoos, snap-backs, black lipstick, leggings, mustaches, tank tops.
Random Detail: A gauntlet of live painting by a handful of artists, like this piece by Sam Flores:
Overheard in the Crowd: "[Guttural yell] Every time I go somewhere to get a hat, I never get a hat!" -- dude who really wanted a free Pabst hat
-"Hard White (Up in the Club)"
-A cappella from BET's Shady 2.0 cypher
-Verse from Big Boi's "You Ain't No DJ"
-Verse from Travis Barker's "Let's Go"
-"Pop the Trunk"
-"Love Is Not Enough"
-"I Just Wanna Party"
-"Good to Go"