We should have seen it coming.
Before I even had the chance to finish a pre-show pint at the Crystal Ballroom's neighboring Crystal Hotel on Sunday night, two paramedics rushed through the bar’s doors to fetch water for a concertgoer who had overdosed on drugs. I later found out it was just a 16-year-old kid who couldn’t handle his pot brownie (according to a paramedic), but the tone for the evening was set. This wasn’t going to be a sleepy Sunday night show.
After the brownie situation sorted itself out, I made my way to the entrance of the venue and found a line stretched around the block. At this point it was 9:30pm and the doors had already been open for an hour and a half, but at least 500 people were still waiting to get inside a sold-out Crystal Ballroom. A youthful, trend-savvy crowd, many of those in line were wearing bucket hats (the fashion accessory that Schoolboy Q has impressively rescued from middle-aged-fisherman obscurity) and most were already far from sober.
Once inside, I was greeted by a wall of bodies bouncing along to a distorted bassline on the Crystal’s famously springy floor with their hands held in the air. At first, I thought I must have walked into the middle of Schoolboy Q’s set. I’d never seen an opener draw a response as enthusiastic as this at a rap show, but sure enough, I looked up to see Isaiah Rashad and his signature twisted dreads bobbing around on stage.
This was my first glimpse into just how firm Top Dawg Entertainment’s stronghold is on the hip-hop world right now. Just last year, 21-year-old Rashad was an unknown emcee from Tennessee grinding to make a name for himself. Then in March, he was signed by TDE and suddenly found himself at the top of everyone’s “Next Rapper To Make It Big” list. Based on a quick opening set that drew a better reaction from the crowd than most headliners I’ve seen recently, the hype appears to be well deserved.
Of course, the intense spotlight TDE currently finds itself under at the moment wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for its crown jewel: Kendrick Lamar. Arguably hip-hop’s most talked-about and widely respected newcomer over the past several years, Lamar was indirectly responsible for the entire evening. The shocking success of his 2012 album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, vaulted the label and all of its artists from the struggling indie ranks to the lofty status of hip-hop’s “it” crew.
Aware of Lamar’s looming presence over the show (despite not actually being in attendance), Rashad remained on stage after his set and played hype man as Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” blasted through the Crystal's speakers. Unsurprisingly, it drew the biggest reaction yet from the crowd (which is totally insane, but a testament to both Lamar’s influence and the generally ridiculous nature of the whole evening).
By the time Schoolboy Q finally made it to center stage, it was obvious that something had to give. The energy inside the Crystal was bubbling over. Instead of the normally subdued intermission that most of us expected, Schoolboy’s DJ spent 20 minutes playing high-energy trap music (including Baauer’s viral “Harlem Shake”). He even crowd-surfed. Seriously. The house DJ crowd-surfed. And the song he crowd-surfed to? A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba” of all things. Really. I’m not making this up.
Schoolboy didn't even make it through three songs before we heard our first sign that a sold-out crowd of m.A.A.d people simultaneously jumping up and down might be a little too much for a 100-year-old building to handle. After a quick huddle with event staff, Q announced: “I think we broke this shit! Apparently we cracked the floor. We haven’t even gotten as loud as we’re going to get, so we’re going to turn it down a little.”
If the volume was turned down, it didn’t stay down for long. No one stopped jumping. If anything, it added fuel to the fire. To be honest, I didn’t really believe the warning and just assumed it was a weird attempt to add hype to the show. Then about 10 minutes later (after performing “Hands On The Wheel”), he had another announcement for the crowd.
“Apparently they want to shut down the show.”
Bucket hats flew. People booed. Everyone (including Schoolboy himself) looked confused. Then the familiar woozy sample of Portland’s own Chromatics sliced through the growing tension and Schoolboy broke into the opening verse of his latest hit, “Man of the Year.”
At this point, I was still convinced the whole broken floor story was a fabricated attempt to rile up the crowd and a way for Q to appear more rebellious than he actually is. If the floor was really broken, wouldn’t we have been evacuated by now?
Then the music cut out, house lights flipped on, and Q was pulled off stage by a bodyguard. It was true: a giant support beam had cracked in half. They really did it. They broke the floor.
In a bizarre way, it seemed fitting. Just two nights before, the music world’s attention was glued to Outkast’s somewhat disappointing reunion at Coachella, which ended in bizarre fashion as André 3000 thanked the crowd for coming out and self-consciously admitted, “I know this is kind of weird 20 years later.” Forty-eight hours later and 1,000 miles north of the Coachella Valley, Schoolboy Q and Isaiah Rashad put on a show in Portland that was overflowing with the missing ingredient from Outkast’s reunion: raw, youthful energy.
Hip-hop has always been a young man’s game. The intensity surrounding hungry emcees clawing their way to take over the thrones of those who came before them has been the lifeblood of the genre for decades. After Sunday night’s performance, it’s clear this is Top Dawg Entertainment’s year—just ask the terrified Crystal Ballroom crew member who stood under rattling floorboards and watched his venue literally crack under the pressure of 1,500 Schoolboy Q fans.
Photos by Josh Phillips—check out a full gallery of the show.