Concert Roundup: Rap stars take over The Observatory North Park


Ryan Hardison

Earl Sweatshirt and Action Bronson brought a fun night full of hip-hop to the Observatory North Park on Saturday, Jan. 29.

by Ryan Hardison, Arts & Culture Editor

The NBA Leather World Tour, co-headlined by rappers Earl Sweatshirt and Action Bronson, provided a can’t-miss night for San Diego hip-hop fans on Saturday, Jan. 29 at the North Park Observatory. Special guests included Boldy James & The Alchemist, along with producers Black Noi$e and Daringer.

If you’re a fan of Sweatshirt or Bronson, then it’s not too much of a shock they would tour together. The connection which bridges these rap stars together, besides their penchant for extravagant beats and mesmerizing lyrical tales, is their history of collaboration with The Alchemist. 

The Alchemist has an extensive history as one of hip-hop’s most prolific producers, producing classics for east coast rappers like Mobb Deep and Jadakiss in the late ‘90s and contributing heavily to the ongoing renaissance of rap greats emerging in the last half-decade. If you want a consistently amazing beatmaker, go to the Alchemist.

The three have collaborated with each other for nearly a decade and are responsible for some of rap music’s best team-ups in recent years. Two of Bronson’s best projects, “Lamb over Rice” and “Rare Chandeliers,” were made with the Alchemist.

Though they don’t have an official collaboration album out (yet), Sweatshirts appears on several Alchemist album cuts and singles like “Nobles,” “Loose Change” and “E. Coli” with plans for a full-length collaboration album releasing later this year. And if you believe this tweet from 2021, an Earl/Alchemist album already exists on YouTube under an unknown pseudonym.

Most recently, Alchemist has been teaming up with rapper Boldy James on “The Price of Tea in China,” one of 2020’s finest albums, as well as “Bo Jackson” and “Super Tecmo Bo.” 

Fresh off being voted 2021’s Best Producer Alive by Complex, The Alchemist, joined by Boldy James, opened the show and wowed the crowd. Though the Alchemist has garnered historical recognition recently, James is no slouch himself. 

As one of Detroit’s finest rappers, he’s like a shining star in the midst of an overall regional resurgence. However, his raps and lyrical style have less of a direct tie to Michigan and more towards overall rap excellence regardless of setting. Now as a member of the prolific hip-hop collective Griselda, James is finally gaining recognition as one of rap’s best wordsmiths. 

On stage, James performs with an emphasis on style but with more than enough substance to get the job done. He raps like he’s “too cool for school,” coming up with new and creative euphemisms for doing dirty deeds and starting off tracks with his signature phrase: “where we at with it.” 

When together, the result is so seamless that I can’t imagine anyone else but James rapping over most Alchemist instrumentals. Especially when performing hard-hitting songs like “Pots and Pans” and several selections from their “Bo Jackson” album. They’re a true match made in hip-hop heaven.

Then came Earl Sweatshirt. Sweatshirt’s latest album “Sick!” was released on Jan. 14 and featured four songs with excellent production from Black Noi$e, who joined Sweatshirt onstage for his set. 

Since emerging as possibly the most talented member of Odd Future, he’s created his own artistic avenue with a rap style that’s a mix of distorted introspection, vulnerability and overall music appreciation. On “Sick!” his new experience with fatherhood finds him more optimistic than past projects, where loss and grief were dark clouds hanging over every positive note. 

As a performer, Earl doesn’t take himself too seriously as he dives into whatever song he’s feeling at the moment, going through the lyrics like it’s a monotonous task and cracking jokes when he sees fit. He’s someone who can rap without any special effects or hype techniques to pump up the crowd. He just gets on stage and does his job. No gimmicks, just bars. 

He ran through fan favorites like “The Mint” and “Riot” and “EAST,” which has turned into a niche internet meme due to its very left-field beat that sounds like something out of a horror cartoon. 

But the best moments came from “Sick!” The poetically perfect single “2010,” produced by Black Noi$e, somehow sounding both futuristic and reminiscent, struck a chord with much of the crowd. Another standout was Sweatshirt’s final track “Fire in the Hole,” a solemn reflection with several heartfelt lyrical gems like “I couldn’t toast a drink to demise, I heard the clink.” This is a song that should be played by anyone wondering if Sweatshirt is an elite rapper. No other explanation is necessary. 

Finally came Action Bronson, stomping on stage with the reckless attitude of a WWE wrestler, slamming microphones, and chucking water bottles sky-high like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin throwing beers into a raucous crowd. 

Daringer, who has produced extensively for Griselda and for Bronson, DJ’d Bronson’s set. In reference to Bronson’s most recent album “Only for Dolphins,” dolphin noises were peppered throughout, which somehow fit well with the triumphant horns featured in many of his tracks.

Bronson is a performer who feeds off the crowd’s energy and there’s no doubt he pours his whole persona into his performances. He brought blinding intensity to each track he performed, giving his all like each song was his last of the set. Especially on songs like “The Chairmen’s Intent” and “GoldenEye” where the roaring beats meant having to scream his lyrics. Bronson periodically caught his breath by taking lots of breaks to sign fans’ t-shirts and random memorabilia they had on hand. 

Halfway through his time, Bronson invited The Alchemist to come back out to help perform Mac Miller’s “Red Dot Music” which Alchemist produced and Bronson has a verse on. It was a memorable tribute that goes to show the profound impact Miller left on hip-hop. 

For any fans who missed this show, you better hope they all come back to San Diego soon, or else you’ll be stuck with FOMO for a while.