Sean Beckwith: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik at Belly Up
“Have you ever looked at the back of a $20 bill … on weed?” is an oft-quoted line from the American cinema masterpiece “Half Baked.” Jon Stewart, the longtime host of “The Daily Show,” has a cameo in which he plays an enchanted stoner. The essence of the joke is weed makes everything better — looking at the stars, “Scent of a Woman,” etc.
As false as that is — word problems in math class, funerals, probation and hostage situations are all presumably worse when you’re high — there are certain scenarios when adding a qualifier adds to an experience. Watching hockey on TV is dramatically more boring than seeing the hitting in person. Pizza is substantially better with a cold beer. Guinness allegedly tastes just like chocolate milk in Ireland.
My latest life-altering experience was seeing dirty, grungy, loud, beautiful apex Southern hip-hop live. I’ve seen Nappy Roots a couple of times, but Monday night at Belly Up Aspen, Big Boi came close to ripping the damn doors off with palpable energy and floor-rattling bass.
For those of you who don’t know who Big Boi is, I’m not sure we can be friends. The legendary half of Outkast brought a level of crowd participation that’s unheard of at most Aspen concerts. During “Sorry Ms. Jackson,” they dropped the music a few times during the chorus and the audience belted out the hook like they were teenyboppers at a Taylor Swift show. I almost started squealing and crying like one myself.
My greatest fear going into the show was Big Boi forgoing Outkast classics and playing only solo material, but those concerns were alleviated as soon as I walked in.
I arrived just as Fat Daddy Stacks started his set, grabbed a beer while rapping along to “B.IG. B.O.I. is that same motherf—er that took them knuckles to your eye,” paused at the ledge above the dance floor long enough to realize I should be on the dance floor and then set up shop a few rows deep.
I would’ve loved to see Outkast as a whole; however, we were treated to a gauntlet of classics from “Rosa Parks” to “B.O.B” to “So Fresh, So Clean” complete with hooks. Obviously most Andre 3000 verses were omitted, but Big Boi’s hype man/vocal support chipped in and spit one or two key bars.
It was the kind of atmosphere that requires 100 percent attention. I finished my beer halfway through the show and was completely fine empty-handed the rest of the performance. I did my usual “hold up my phone and take a bunch of photos hoping one will be good” move, which felt like a waste of time despite still being able to dance.
The Eminem fan boy next to me not only impeded my ability to move up front but also spent a ton of time making sure his Instagram/Snapchat stories updated, at one point trying to hear the music of one such post while live music was going on. I know that sounds get-off-my-lawn-ish, but come on, man, there’s a godfather of Southern rap playing the Belly Up like it’s a small club in Atlanta circa 1994.
What separated this show from previous hip-hop shows was Big Boi’s solo stuff. Outkast’s music is perfect, but it’s not the current iteration of Southern trap music that throws off your equilibrium.
While Big Boi hasn’t fully embraced the Young Jeezy-style of music, his latest album “Boomiverse” has tracks that will dislodge nuts and bolts when played loud enough. When listened to at 11 at a live show, “In the South” and “Kill Jill” — which happens to feature Jeezy — do that thing where your stomach drops and you get goose bumps. When he brought a little bit of Atlanta to Aspen with “Kryptonite,” the crowd brought another tear to my eye with how hard they hit the “Eh’s!” between the “I’m on its.”
There were two songs that stuck with me over the rest of the performance and those were “All Night” — an unquestionable banger in any era — and “International Player’s Anthem,” which was the encore. I don’t even care that UGK wasn’t there. “Player’s Anthem” epitomizes that balance between head-cracking production and infectious lyrics that propelled acts like Big Boi and UGK to the peak of the hip-hop hierarchy.
I’ve always loved Outkast but there was something off about listening to Southern rappers like Project Pat in a car with subwoofers that overpower the intricacies (although I don’t think Project Pat has ever been described as intricate) of the music or a system with subdued tuning that deflates the boom.
I almost didn’t buy a ticket because it would put me behind on my current check-to-check schedule, but I’d happily go broke spending money on shows like the one Monday.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.