Fabolous returns the hustle to FAC

By Dan Gigliotti

The University of Massachusetts University Programming Council welcomed hip-hop artist Fabolous to the Fine Arts Center on Friday for its annual Welcome Back Concert.

Flickr Pennstatelive
Flickr Pennstatelive

The acclaimed rapper captivated a rambunctious sold-out crowd of 2,500 students with his unique swagger and long list of hit songs. Fabolous, now referred to as “Loso,” enamored the crowd and demonstrated he hasn’t lost his talent for performing over his nearly two decades in the game.

North Carolina-natives Mercy Mercedes opened the show by playing a short set of songs from their new full-length album “Believe it.”

Featuring a trio of energetic guitarists, an enthusiastic front-man, and a brand new drummer, the lively group entertained the audience with a well-executed performance that was indistinct, yet fairly enjoyable.

Its sound resembled late-nineties popular-alternative rock with driving guitar riffs set behind the lead-singer’s impassioned melodies.

Two effervescent electric guitarists bounced around stage, employing power chords with some theatrics. One, a Keanu Reeves look-alike donning a winter cap and straight-legged jeans, hopped in place with a quizzical look on his face, as if surprised by the sounds coming from his instrument. The other, rocking a leather jacket and graphic tee, held a constipated look on his face during most of the show, wailing away at his strings with one foot hoisted on a speaker, banging the whammy bar with indiscretion like a true Guitar Hero champion.

The crowd responded moderately when urged to dance during the song “The Perfect Scene,” but seemed to be more eager to hear the house music that came on following the group’s 30-minute performance.

The hip-hop enthusiasts became increasingly excited and eventually unruly with every contemporary rap hit that filled the mezzanine. The students displayed their best “Dougie” and nearly everyone knew the proper cadence to the song “Shots.”

In the 50 minutes that led up to Fabolous’ appearance, fans were so giddy with anticipation they could barely control themselves. A scuffle broke out in one of the front rows when UPC staff ordered fans to curb their enthusiasm by remaining in their seats. The crowd responded unwelcomingly with a rain of boos and middle fingers before eventually obliging.

Fabolous graced the stage at 9:20 p.m. accompanied by DJ Paul Cain and an unnamed hype man. From the second the 33-year old rapper muttered his voice over the microphone, the unquestionable scent of marijuana crept towards the front of the stage – from whose flavored cigar or plastic baggie that smell came remains undetermined – at which point the previously humbled crowd could not be held in its seats any longer. The antsy crowd showered the veteran MC with cheers as he crept steadfastly to the front of the stage, imploring fans to cheer with a menacing stare.

The Brooklyn-born artist wore a letter jacket with the distinctive “NY” logo on its front-left chest and the words Flight School scrolled on the back. His sagged-down drab khakis fell onto a pair of red Jordan sneakers and a flat-brimmed cap sat neatly on top of his head with a word written in capital letters likely to signify his rhyming prowess – “NICE.”

He performed his own version of the Wiz Khalifa song “Black & Yellow,” supplanting the Pittsburgh colors for “white” and “navy,” in no particular effort to appease the majority of Massachusetts natives in the crowd.

Fabolous, having been in the rap industry for 17 years, has a certain air that exudes confidence in his performing abilities. He moseys back and forth to either side of the stage with intent, compelling the audience to recite lyrics to his past hits with an hypnotic look. If it wasn’t his posturing that produced these mesmerizing affects, it was his jewelry. Between his gleaming wristwatch and the two crucifixes hanging from his neck, the rapper was wearing more diamonds than a deck of cards.

He performed older hits and he went into a medley of his most popular songs from the last decade. The famous Tupac song “Ambitionaz as a Ridah” provided a segue into his debut single “Can’t Deny it,” which sampled the Shakur track. He then urged everyone to “Holla Back” before performing his portion of the Lil’ Mo hit “Superman.” He finished his throwback segment with “Into You,” the Ashanti duet off of 2003’s “Street Dreams,” and “Can’t Let You Go” off of the same album.

Fab seemed to have an increased enthusiasm during the song “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley,” and it continued into the next song, an ode to gold-digging women, “For the Money.” It seemed that, like most mainstream rap artists today, the more he rhymed about money, the more animated he became.

The song “Breathe” tested the academic skills of the college audience (one-and-then-a-two, two-and-then-a-three, three-and-then-a-four) and was undoubtedly one of the most popular of the night. He finished that track a capella and began a slow chant of “Brooklyn” that was received with mocking chants of “Boston.”

Following the song “Start it Up,” Fab must have been pooped, because he announced he was taking a bathroom break before finishing out his set. After his short trip to the head, he played a handful of songs, including “U Make Me Better” and then wished everyone a happy New Year.

He played two more songs, a denunciation of failed relationships, “Put Two Fingers Up” and another tune about expensive toys “Throw it in the Bank.”

Fabolous arguably received his most commercial success earlier last decade, but, as his performance on Friday indicates, he is still thriving in the rap game. He debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s 200 with the 2009 album “Loso’s Way” and he plans to release the sequel, “Loso’s Way 2: Rise to Power” in March 2011.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at [email protected]