Depression is a very taboo subject in rap, mainly because it is a genre that is almost synonymously affiliated with masculinity. Rappers share very few moments of vulnerability in their lyrics because they do not want any other emcees to gain an upper hand or expose their weaknesses.
You have artists like Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West who will openly talk about their bouts with depression, but none of the aforementioned artists come close to representing the tough street persona of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, rapper Kevin Gates.
Gates happens to be one of the only rappers with a strikingly tough exterior who is not afraid to talk about how he handles his incredible highs and miserable lows.
Multiple times throughout Gates’ performance at the EXPRESS LIVE! (formerly known as LC Pavilion) indoor venue on Monday night the Louisiana rapper would ask the audience if he could share his experiences between songs. The crowd cheered each time, approving Gates to open up to the sold-out Columbus show.
Even though it may have seemed that Gates interacts with his audiences at that level often, it was an intimate moment in a show based on high-energy street anthems.
The Kevin Gates that was on display Monday night in Columbus is not the same one that the media likes to paint. The version that most people know of him is of somebody that constantly belittles women, either by sexually disrespecting them or physically abusing them.
The media programs people to feel no remorse for Gates — and mostly for good reason — but attending one of his shows will open one’s mind to the thoughts that plague him on a daily basis.
The 2014 XXL Freshmen alumni is currently on the second leg of his tour promoting his debut studio album “Islah,” which means to improve or make better in Arabic and is also the name of one of his daughters. When Gates inquired to those in the crowd about their children, it struck a chord considering how quiet the packed room became whenever the rapper opened up between songs. He opened up about how he missed his daughter’s first steps due to being incarcerated, something that bothers him to this day.
It took only a matter of a few songs for Gates to form a meaningful connection with the crowd. Even though the soundscapes that he chooses to rap over sound harsh and trap-like, Gates is a true storyteller in every sense of the term. Having access to his lyrics while listening to the Baton Rouge rapper is the only way to give his songs true justice.
Yes, Gates did run through single-oriented tracks like “I Don’t Get Tired” and “2 Phones,” but the tenacity he displayed while performing those songs on Monday built a whole different type of bond with the audience. The venue was nearly packed from front to back, and when the beats to those songs dropped, the crowd responded. Arms were flailing, bodies were bouncing up and down and lyrics were passionately being recited, a testament to the underground fan base Gates has.
Aside from promoting songs off of his 2016 LP release, Gates went deep into his catalog frequently throughout the show. The Southern rhymer kicked off the show with “Wish I Had It” from his 2014 mixtape “By Any Means” and shortly followed it up with the catchy club banger “Thinkin’ With My D—” from a 2013 project.
The show had an abrupt, awkward ending, however. Gates performed “Thought I Heard (Bread Winners’ Anthem),” and then his DJ played a few of his tracks while he interacted with the crowd. Afterward he walked off the stage, not leaving the audience with an encore.
After Gates would perform a throwback track, he would present an anecdote to the audience regarding his status as a force in the underground rap game. He spoke on how he would perform at hole-in-the-wall venues with outdated sound equipment.
Those days are in the rearview, but Gates still does not seem like a rapper who cares about making radio-oriented singles. His underground following will continue to grow, as evidenced by his sold-out show on Monday in Columbus, where he recently played a show at the Newport Music Hall in July.
“2 Phones” is one of Gates’ biggest tracks in 2016 thus far, but it is just one of the seven singles he has rolled out since his previous performance in Columbus. These songs have stretched Gates’ relevance way past what the average album rollout produces. “Islah” is less than a month old, but it has the backing to fuel Gates entirely through 2016.
His passion while touring will also play a big part in his ever-growing fan base. If he continues to personally connect with audiences like he did in Columbus, he will accumulate more fans the underground way.