By Setota Hailemariam
Art Attack at this university has changed a lot since its inception in 1984, when its lineup included acts such as Stuart Gordon and Lithuanian Dance Gabija.
Originally “centered on student art and design, with a sprinkling of local and student musical acts,” according to that 2012 post on Student Entertainment Events’ official blog, the end-of-year concert has since transformed into a star-studded event. Students now eagerly look forward to the lineup release all year in hopes that the campus organization is able to secure a big name in popular music.
This year, it did just that, bringing rappers Lil Yachty and Vince Staples to the Xfinity Center stage on May 4. The show started at 8 p.m., but events occurred all day on Mckeldin Mall to get students excited for the night, from yoga and zumba to facepainting and a mobile ninja course.
Though both artists are huge names in the current rap universe, the April 6 lineup announcement for this year’s 35th installment of the concert series drew mixed reactions from students — several of them overwhelmingly negative.
However, that didn’t hinder the eventual turnout for the show, as students packed into the university’s basketball arena. It had turned into a surprisingly convincing concert venue for the night, as colored spotlights swirled over the newly-constructed stage and changed the clouds of fog to shades of orange.
The crowd didn’t have to wait long for the single opener, Wallz Baba, to come out — a welcome change from last year’s Art Attack, when the audience impatiently stood through a series of opening rappers for hours before getting to see the headliner, 2 Chainz.
Baba, a graduate of this university, won Student Entertainment Events’ Battle of the Bands in March and got to open the show as a result. He and his band played a diverse set that ranged from Afrobeat-inspired tracks to more hip-hop inspired ones, with some of his musical companions jumping in from time to time to hop on a chorus or hype him up. As no one in the crowd knew his lyrics, their energy didn’t quite match his, but they still clapped along while pushing their anticipation for Staples and Yachty to the side.
When Staples first came out, their enthusiasm spiked. He instructed everyone to put their hands up, in typical rapper fashion, and soon launched into his single, “Big Fish,” the second from his most recent release “Big Fish Theory.” Goldfish and other marine visuals played on the wide screen behind him, adding a theatrical element to the performance.
It soon became clear, though, that everyone was there for Lil Yachty and Lil Yachty only. It wasn’t so much a matter of the audience not liking Staples — they just didn’t listen to his music. At one point he even asked if they were having a good time or not, saying he “can’t really tell right now.”
He ended his set on a high note when he played songs everyone was more familiar with, performing “Blue Suede,” “Norf Norf” and “Yeah Right” in succession. For the first time all night, people were screaming lyrics — the words “I ain’t never run from nothin’ but the police” coming from the mouths of teenage boys in Hawaiian shirts.
When Yachty finally came out, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy; the pushing, moshing and yelling increasing with every one of his “Lil Boat!” ad-libs. Clad in a red sweatshirt that coordinated with his trademark red braids, he performed much of his signature catalog, from the frat party favorite “I Spy” to the boast-filled “From the D to the A.”
Oto Njovu, an early childhood education major at Washington Adventist University, said “From the D to the A” was one of her favorite moments of the show.
“That was my summer anthem, I felt it in my soul,” she said. “When he played songs I could relate to, that was the highlight of the night.”
Sticking the nautical theme, he and his team threw water bottles into the crowd toward the end of the night, instructing everyone who caught one to uncap it and toss it in the air. This resulted in a totally drenched crowd during his performances of “Minnesota” and “One Night,” adding to their already sky-high intensity, which stayed consistent throughout the two hits.
He ended the show with a rendition of the song “66” from his newest album “Lil Boat 2.” “Dropped out, now I’m rich,” he sang, an ironic refrain in front of an audience full of college kids.
Kahleb Aberra, a sophomore community health major, also noted the audience’s energy.
“I also expected the crowd to just be very energetic, because UMD’s a very big hype school … it probably exceeded [my expectations], honestly,” he said.
Featured Photo Credit: Lil Yachty performs on stage at Art Attack XXXV Friday, May 4 (Sara Karlovitch/Bloc Reporter).
Setota Hailemariam is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.