Weeknights in the city always feel a little odd and dreamlike — the bustling streets are quieter and passers-by often quietly mumble to each other as they rush off to their destinations. It was a Tuesday night in San Francisco, and as Rejjie Snow walked onto the stage, clad in a green sweatsuit and black beanie, the night’s dreamlike quality intensified.
The setup of the concert hall was charmingly casual, with moving, rainbow lights adding to the surreal nature of the night. The concertgoers had packed into the Brick and Mortar Music Hall as the DJ played old Drake and Kanye West songs. The crowd danced along, waiting for the real show of the night.
With a decorum that he maintained throughout the night, Irish rapper Rejjie Snow strolled onto the stage, and the crowd cheered as he jumped into his roller coaster of a set. Snow seemed to speed through the songs from Dear Annie, his 20-song album released in 2018. He moved from light, bouncy tunes to intense, passion-filled rap. He made sure to praise his audience the entire night, making it seem as though he flew all the way across the Atlantic just to be in this corner of San Francisco.
As Snow steadily performed the varying styles of his music, he made sure to consistently interact with the crowd and listen for its response, which was often one of devotional admiration.
Snow even stated, “This isn’t a hip-hop show. This is an experience, so you guys have to tell me how you’re feeling.” — and the crowd did. At one point, a member of the crowd managed to crawl up on the stage and start dancing alongside Snow, who played along, smiling and continuing to rap — until a security guard joined them onstage and escorted the dancing fan away.
The set began with “Mon Amour,” a very relaxed, whispering tune. This served almost as a warmup for Snow. The song had a chilling accompanying track, which featured singer Milena LeBlanc’s voice floating above it, singing the French lyrics. In contrast to LeBlanc’s high-pitched, light voice, Snow’s voice grounded the song; though seemingly simple and straightforward, his voice was stabilizing and rich whether he was singing along with LeBlanc’s parts or rapping on his own.
As with “Mon Amour” and some of his other pieces, Snow’s performance relied heavily on the produced tracks at times, to the point where it felt as though he was accompanying the track, instead of the other way around. But as his rap grew in intensity, he transcended the production and stood out on his own.
It soon became clear that Snow’s creativity orients around two central themes: painful love, and the regality and politics of being Black. At this show, the second theme stood out as Snow’s lines challenged the crowd to reconcile the beauty of Blackness with the injustice and violence facing his community.
In “The Ends,” he sang “I feel like Ethiopian. I feel like I am king.”
In “Blakkst Skn,” with force, he pushed out the words of the rap in order to lift up the crowd: “Blackest skin, I bet you wish you had the soap / To cleanse me down and beat me up and take my hope.”
In “Pink Flower,” Snow sang, “June 27, 1993, I came on / With them black fists high and them blisters in it.”
These songs contrasted starkly with lighter songs such as “Mon Amour” and “Désolé” — centered on Snow’s love interests. The power in his music was palpable in the small venue, and it brought out Snow’s energy — his charm was no longer rooted in his coolness and laid-back personality, but in his emotion regarding his experiences with love and with Blackness.
Thus, while Snow’s performance felt like a dream, his lyrics, his emotions and his presence told the crowd that this was, in fact, very real.