Ahead of his "Drip or Drown 2" tour, Gunna pulled up in New York City for a special TIDAL event last night.
Here is an event so quietly announced that the hundreds of hip-hop fans lining the block seem unsure of where to direct their cell phones, their Instagram stories, and their anticipation. On a freezing Tuesday night, a line formed outside of New York’s Gramercy Theatre, everyone huddled and ready to witness the performance billed simply, “TIDAL x Gunna.” Ostensibly an album release show, the event was set almost a week after Gunna’s debut studio album Drip or Drown 2 was released. Most people had won tickets through a TIDAL raffle, but the advertisements had been so subtle that many of the attendees were left unsure of what they were walking into exactly.
Once inside, that uncertainty spilled onto the theatre floor. A DJ tasked with warming up the crowd shuffled hits from Future, Famous Dex, and Drake, growing frustrated at the audience’s lack of response. Many of the guests were too busy openly rolling joints and gawking at the high-tech cameras positioned across the room. Despite warnings that only a sufficiently-turnt audience would be rewarded with a Gunna performance, the DJ eventually ceded the stage and the subdued crowd to Gunna’s personal DJ— they were someone else’s responsibility now.
Gunna backstage - Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
There were no warnings, no dimming of the lights or a portentous bass drop to announce Gunna’s arrival. The rapper charged up the stage, so quiet that even in his full-length golden jacket many did not immediately notice him, as he quickly began performing one of his personal favorite cuts, “Pedestrian,” off of Drip Season 3, followed by “Wit It,” the first song on Drip or Drown 2. Maybe Gunna had been warned to expect a tame crowd, and if that’s the case he addressed it by not addressing it. After briefly shouting out New York and “the drip,” his first few songs were a rapid sprint, a blitz in which Gunna fired through the big singles on his new album without looking back— or down at the audience— until he was certain the audience would provide the feedback he wanted. That moment came when he got to “Speed It Up.” No logical thread connects the lyrics of that barebones, grating single; but in the same way those disjointed lines burrow through the beat and then through your head, the crowd was suddenly a little more animated. At least the right side of the room was, which Gunna quickly established as his favorite section of the crowd.
Gunna performing - Image by TIDAL
Watching the audience from the press section, with a vantage of the crane cameras and the images being transmitted through TIDAL's livestream, the performance suddenly took on a different meaning. This media platform hadn’t just taken a stake in the artist, they were also actively altering our sense of “live,” a sense of the present. It was an extreme inversion of the proposition behind MTV Unplugged, another popular music series that seeks to transport music fans into a more immediate, purer connection with their favorite artists. Whereas MTV Unplugged strips away as much tech as possible to present a naked version of the artist’s music, TIDAL's technicians were making such imperceptibly rapid changes to the images and sounds that the adjusted content became the most immediate experience. Nothing of the subdued left side of the crowd, or Gunna’s microphone momentarily becoming distorted. In this case, every cable is plugged in.
With TIDAL still a small player in the streaming field, “live” streamed performances could offer an interesting niche, especially because the platform purports to cultivate closer relationships with its artists than its competitors do. If that’s the case, TIDAL played the rest of the night perfectly. The biggest moments of Gunna’s performance came toward the second half, in the elaborate production choices that swirled around him, rather than in his own musicianship. For performances of “Sold Out Dates” and the Astroworld cut, “YOSEMITE,” Gunna forwent backing tracks and incorporated a live guitar, two choices that dramatically improved the sound and intimacy of his performance. The climax of the show came shortly after this, when Young Thug took the stage for a surprise performance of his biggest collaborations with his protégé, including “King Kong” and “Chanel.”
Gunna and Young Thug on stage at the NYC TIDAL event - Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
Thug’s starpower got the theatre to its collective feet without hesitation; surely there was an analogous effect on people who were watching the stream from the comfort of their living room. Gunna gave Thug a chance to perform a solo song, “Digits,” before performing a few more of his own songs, including his huge hit, "Drip Too Hard." The night had finally reached its drip apex.