Two songs into Friday’s performance at the Fillmore Silver Spring, it was unclear if rapper Kevin Gates had just awakened from a deep sleep or had laryngitis. After he casually sauntered onto the stage, his first words were groggy and largely inaudible.
Then on “4:30 a.m.,” a menacing tune from last summer’s “Stranger Than Fiction” mix tape, Gates jolted violently, swiping at the microphone stand like one of those back-stabbing friends he often raps about. Either the betrayals are still fresh in his brain or he was just that excited to perform in the Washington area for the first time.
“I ain’t never been up here before,” Gates exclaimed through a thick Southern drawl. “However long they let me stay up here, I’mma give it a thousand.”
That’s easy for the Baton Rouge rapper, whose bruising flows reach into his sullen past of crime, frayed relationships and bouts of depression. In 2009, Gates was sent to prison after being convicted of drug and firearms charges, which stalled the momentum he achieved as a buzzing lyricist with an intrepid work ethic. After his release in 2011, Gates linked with New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne and signed a management deal with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment.
Gates made significant strides last year with the release of his critically acclaimed mix tape “The Luca Brasi Story,” which led to his signing with Atlantic Records. Gates’s most recent release, this year’s “By Any Means,” is a bit glossier than his previous work but just as passionate.
Yet on Friday, you wouldn’t know that he’s a budding star with two Billboard-charting projects — the aforementioned “Stranger Than Fiction” and “By Any Means” — on his résumé. For almost an hour, Gates peppered the crowd with songs that the majority seemed to recognize. Before many of these tracks, the rapper shouted at his DJ to “gimme some more s---!” — a nudge that established a quick pace and sustained Gates’s aggressive energy throughout his impressive gig.
Still, there’s an underlying sincerity to the rapper that you instantly feel. So it doesn’t matter if he rhymes about having sex in a bathroom stall (“Would You Mind?”), remaining forthright (“Own Up to Your Bull----”) or the effects of karma (“Get Up on My Level”), it’s clear that his words come from a very real place. Of course, the mini tantrum Gates threw during Friday’s depiction of “Posed to Be in Love” helped drive that point home.
However, the best part of the show came near the end, when Gates jumped from the stage and performed his last few songs — namely “IDGAF” and “John Gotti” — among the audience. “I ain’t never been here in my life, and you know my lyrics verbatim!” Gates said, his excitement teeming to the point of euphoria.
So much for him being fatigued.
Moore is a freelance writer.