For a college that salivated over the prospect of a library open 24 hours per day, Wale and K’naan did not have to try very hard to shake up the crowd at Matoaka Amphitheater last Friday night.
The crowd was massive. According to AMP music committee member Nick Velleman ’10, roughly 2,000 people were in attendance. That number didn’t even include the several interlopers who tried to crash the party from canoes on the lake behind the stage.
“This is the biggest show that the College of William and Mary has seen in a really long time,” Velleman said.
The night brought a well-timed mixture of Washington, D.C. pride, social awareness, go-go beats and inspiring personal stories that would have excited any audience.
With the sun still in the sky, Tabi Bonney kicked off the show. Bonney, a D.C. resident originally from Togo, brought with him two crazy-legged break dancers and a swell of local pride.
“Can everyone be from D.C. real quick?” he asked, as he started into his thumping introductory song.
Bonney attempted a lot of typical concert techniques to hype up the audience, from making the left and the right sides of the audience compete in decibels, to bringing several girls onto the stage to dance.
“Get your hands up, like it’s a stick up in here,” Bonney said.
Efforts to energize seemed forced and pointless, but a quick scan of the crowd showed that even the two elderly women camped out on the grass were willing to oblige.
Next on the list was John Forte, who had the markings of a seasoned performer with his easy confidence and sexiness. Despite a slower tempo set, he commanded attention. When a girl screamed her affections for him, he responded with dry wit.
“You don’t even know me. Don’t objectify me. I am more than just my hair,” Forte said in reference to his impressive two-foot long dreadlocks.
Forte deftly blended his raspy, world-weary singing with rhymes that focused on both social issues and personal trials with laser precision. At times, it seemed as if there were two different vocalists on stage.
In the middle of his performance, he shared his story with the crowd, which included his time spent as a collaborator with the Fugees in the early 90s and his time in prison until President George W. Bush commuted his 14-year sentence in 2008. Praising the analytical skills of college students everywhere, he asked the audience to contemplate the criminal justice system.
It was a serious moment, just when the show’s energy should have been building. However, Forte knew what the crowd of rambunctious students needed.
“I’m not gonna leave you with that cerebral motif,” he said, closing the set with an infectious bass line.
Around 8 p.m. the show took off as Wale’s cohort, DJ Omega, came out to spin tracks from the likes of Kanye West and Snoop Dogg. The crowd responded with eager intensity, packing close to the stage in anticipation of Wale.
Once the D.C. rapper brought his tracks, he did not let up for a second. He came out full force, playing his single “Chillin” fairly early in the night.
“Lookin’ at, lookin’ at, lookin’ at me, / Look at that, look at how they lookin’ at me”— Lady GaGa’s chorus soared over the audience and sounded clear, despite being a recording instead of a live singer.
During “90210,” DJ Omega used a clip of the soundtrack from the 90s teen soap opera “Beverly Hills 90210,” which got the audience singing along. However, “Nike Boots,” with its heavy repetition dragged a little longer than necessary.
“I’m for everybody doing something positive in their life, I like them pretty girls, too,” he said as he segued into his other single, “Pretty Girls.” The audience clapped along to “Ugly girls keep quiet, quiet / Pretty girls clap, clap like this,” possibly leading Wale to assume that there weren’t any ugly girls in the audience.
“I need to settle down. Find me a wholesome William and “I need to settle down. Find me a wholesome William and Mary girl,” he said later on in the evening. Clearly he could not see the scandalous behavior going on in the crowd.
By this point, the concert was in full-on party mode. There was no chance for a lull, and certainly not a dull moment. Wale’s set was over before it began.
K’naan swiftly took over the stage and began his set on a high note, confirming his reputation as an artist who skillfully blends musical genres by coming in with the driving guitars of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” He transitioned into “ABC’s” and hit the lyrical ground running, spinning rhymes with intense fervor.
Throughout his concert, K’naan’s set offered more varied songs, taking advantage of the flesh and blood band behind him. The band brought out Wale for collaboration on “TV in the Radio,” which was conspicuously missing from Wale’s set earlier in the night. The trumpets and guitars brought another dimension to the song and flushed out the soundscape.
K’naan displayed sheer lyrical mastery when he transformed the cadence of the College’s name, “William and Mary” into a beat and free styled over the crowd’s chanting of “William and Mary. Go. William and Mary. Go.” Based on the reaction of the crowd, the most effective way to gain the love of 2,000 people is to write a song for them on the spot.
Although every track was a hit with the audience, K’naan shined with the deeply personal nature of his lyrics.
“Fatima” combined an uplifting acoustic melody with a bittersweet story about the loss of his childhood sweetheart.
He kept the crowd dancing, though, with the volume of the more aggressive “If Rap Gets Jealous” and lightning-paced “Bang Bang.”
“I was in Bob Marley’s house recording this song … I think people all over the world are hearing it. It’s a strange experience, but I’m enjoying it,” he announced. The crowd brought out AMP’s promotional rally towels for his famous worldwide hit “Wavin’ Flag,” but K’naan did not start into the song straight away.
With the crowd singing the chorus, he began to tell his own personal life story.
“It hit me in the kitchen. Where are my friends? Why aren’t they with me? Remember how we heard about NYC?” he sang as he started a new verse.
“This is the part that cannot get onto the radio,” he said, about to delve into a harrowing part about his war-torn childhood, at which point a few members of the Tribe hollered out incoherently.
“I don’t need this screaming right now,” he said.
The crowd hushed as he finished his story, and with a swell of instruments, he performed “Wavin’ Flag,” giving the song due justice as the upcoming World Cup’s anthem. The crowd cheered, flags waved and more than a few people had tears in their eyes. Although K’naan provided an encore soon after, it was the perfect end to a quality show.