Photos By Tim Snyder, Words By Andy Johnson
Juicy J doesn’t want drugs; he needs them. He claims, “You say no to drugs; Juicy J can’t.” Most men can function on a daily basis without ingesting massive amounts of hydroponically grown marijuana, but Juicy J eschews social norms. Thursday’s performance at the Howard Theater was a celebration of the Memphis rapper’s hedonistic lifestyle.
I recognize Juicy J appeals to a certain audience. I expected concertgoers would discretely puff on joints or take quick zips off an electronic vaporizer. This is, after all, an artist who claims to be a “walking pharmacy” on a song called “Drugged Out” on a mixtape called Blue Dream & Lean.
It turns out my expectations of “The Never Sober Tour” were too modest. Everyone was drinking. Blunts were openly smoked. Nobody was worried about lighting up. If this is a sign of things to come now that weed is on its way to decriminalization, rap concerts are going to get a lot more fun.
Local rapper Jay IDK opened the evening. He didn’t get much time on stage, although the subdued audience mostly approved of his message that you shouldn’t trust a ho. If there is one lesson that cuts across racial, gender and class lines, it’s that you should never trust a ho.
Project Pat, Juicy J’s older brother, was the second opener. Pat’s straight-forward, casual flow is similar to his Memphis brethren, as are his indulgences. On nearly every song, Pat boasted about material possessions like the “Jolly Rancher colors on the whips he’s rolling,” his preference for high-grade marijuana, and his zealous pursuit of consequence-free fellatio. Halfway through his set, he invited women on stage to twerk. Three tried. There were no survivors.
The highlight of Project Pat’s set was “Pills, Weed and Pussy,” which features the chorus, “We love that shit” repeated eight times. I’m no doctor, but I imagine a Pat’s proposed cocktail of MDMA, Xanax and Promethazine would either be ineffective or fatal. His set concluded with “Chickenheads,” which further explores Pat’s complicated relationship with women.
Despite his billing as the last opening act, Travis Scott was the most underwhelming. He talked up his allegiance to TI’s Grand Hustle and Kanye West’s GOOD Music, yet few marked out for “Upper Echelon,” one of his more popular songs. If GOOD Music were the X-Men, and Kanye West was Professor X, and Pusha T was Wolverine, and John Legend was Cyclops, and Big Sean was Jubilee, then Travis Scott would be the mutant whose superpower is being bad at rapping yet can get a lucrative record contract.
Near the end of his set, Travis Scott asked the crowd, “If you fuck with real music, make some noise!” Nobody made any noise. To put things into perspective: once Scott left the stage, a skirmish broke out between two intoxicated women. The audience paid more attention to pass-the-weave than listening to Scott’s wack rhymes.
Shortly before 11 pm, Juicy J took the stage. He was wearing his trademark sunglasses, and while I personally did not see him consume any narcotics, one must trust that he was, indeed, trippy. He asked for the audience to start smoking, and sure enough, his fans obliged. The night began with several songs from 2013’s Stay Trippy, including “Stop It”, “Smokin’ Rollin’” and fan favorite “All I Blow is Loud,” where he claims to only “smoke that shit that made R. Kelly think that he could fly.” (The crowd went wild for the line.)
I’ve listened to a lot of Juicy J, but I had not heard the song “Having Sex” until this evening. The song, an ode to love-making, has Juicy repeatedly inquire, “If you believe in having sex, say hell yeah!” The crowd predictably went nuts, collectively echoing their faith in coitus. He followed this up his guest verse from Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and his stripper anthem “Bandz a Make Her Dance.” One of these songs has a future; the other will fade from history. Only fate will dictate which one will last. Juicy J took a moment to clarify that he’s no rookie. He’s a record label owner, Academy Award-winning songwriter, and, most famously, a founding member of seminal Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia. His brief medley of Mafia hits included nothing but stone cold southern rap classics: “Stay Fly”, “Slob On My Knob”, “Poppin’ My Collar” and “Sippin’ On Some Syrup.” The audience was overjoyed, rapping along to every filthy lyric.
Following the medley, Juicy J rolled through several more of his guest verses, including Wale’s “Clappers”, Mike Will Made It’s “23”, Future’s “Shit (Remix)” and BoB’s “We Still In This Bitch.” He decided to end the show with a ten-woman twerk off to his hit “Bounce It.” Unfortunately, the late hour meant there were few women with the energy and ambition to dance on stage and vigorously shake their bottom.
After several wasted minutes, Juicy J patched together a twerk quorum and we were privy to some amateur booty popping. It took a while to get the girls going, but the audience started to pick up a second wind. “Bounce It” is one of Juicy J’s better songs, and he proved himself to be a quality emcee throughout the evening. However, as soon as the final song, “Bombay Gin Dance,” ended Juicy J shrugged and walked off stage. It was midnight and the show was over. I waited a while longer, but I was unsure if he was going to come back out. There are many things Juicy J can’t say no to; unfortunately, an encore is one of them.