Polo G pops out at The Novo

Alice Feng/The Occidental

20-year-old rapper Polo G concluded his “Die a Legend” tour at The Novo Sept. 24. The Chicago native spent the last month traveling across the country and performing material from his debut album. It was an appropriate way to end the summer that took his name to new heights. He released “Die a Legend” June 7, and with its sureness of style, the industry began seeing the sketching of a star. A quick, but fever-pitched press run took notice of his refreshing hunger and heavy-handed lyrics. Despite being distributed by Columbia Records, the 14-track album is largely backed by local producers and showcases the artist without guest appearances. It is worth commending that a major label empowered an unproven, but streetwise rapper to completely take charge of his vision. Their faith was repaid when the album went certified gold with combined sales and streaming statistics. In 2019, the rap charts have fallen victim to Lil Nas X, Post Malone and Lizzo, but Polo G’s effort helps the genre save face.

The Novo features an extended balcony that hangs over its floor to condense the size of the stage for general admission. It makes the theater feel smaller than it already is, and the tightly packed crowd huddles under a lowered ceiling. For decoration, two double-fold cutouts of the album’s cover were angled to face center stage. These modest stage designs hid the platform’s depth to close the space between performer and patron. To begin the show, a blaring lullaby filled the air before pounding drums signaled Polo G’s entry point on “Through Da Storm.” The rapper emerged with black sunglasses reminiscent of Chicago legend Chief Keef’s infamous white pair from 2011. This record is the closest thing to a love song in his catalogue, but its recipients are rarely centered. Almost every theme or emotion exists through his perspective; he is critically self-absorbed. Even as he raps of an escape from rags to riches, there’s a bleakness in his voice that suggests he’s relieved but not satisfied.

After introductory applause, he transitioned into the gloomy selections that snowball throughout the album. The production patterns are subtle compared to the splattered bass and rolling hi-hats of first-wave drill music, but its form pulls from that template. On “Effortless,” the delicate piano keys accent the rapper’s elastic flow to sprinkle life into an otherwise boring beat. Slashing guitar chords wiggle underneath a roaring bass on “Deep Wounds.” The crowd was excited and didn’t mind the consistency of each song. Perhaps their mood would’ve been different if the songs made a transparent crossover attempt, but rapping is fully present in their internal structure. His lyrics are filled with head-on-a-swivel paranoia, and the stories they tell are worthy of such an outlook. Celebratory moments don’t last long, and the weight of tension shifts in his writing to build new drama. The past hardens and haunts his view in lines like “I know my friends got killed on the same block where we used to play/I know death comes unexpected you can’t choose a day.” Tragedy is handled through lesson-learning or retaliation; sometimes the situation calls for both.

Halfway through his set, Polo G brought a special guest on stage in the form of Sacramento native Mozzy. He performed “Sleep Walkin,” and his slurring tongue twisters turned the chorus to liquid. I was pleasantly surprised — it was nice to see two skilled and popular rappers on stage by mere coincidence. Many of the positive qualities found in Polo G’s music are the backbone of Mozzy’s rapid output since 2015. Their mutual appreciation is hardly a surprise given their shared commitment to writing. After this intermission, the headliner returned to perform his newest single “Heartless.” The second verse begins with taunting threats, then unfolds to reveal spiritual crisis as he raps, “Happiness and depression, I’m stuck inside the middle.” On its own, this lyric wouldn’t sound unnatural if it came from someone as superficial as Drake, but the buildup lays down a nice landing to end the sequence.

To conclude the final show of his first headlining tour, Polo G brought his entire backstage crew onstage to perform his currently charting hit “Pop Out.” It is the first top 20 hit of his career, and the stock continues to rise, as it is now a popular selection on the social media app Tik Tok. This shows the record label he doesn’t cross over or compromise in order to achieve commercial success. Despite being aesthetically and lyrically attached to Polo G’s style, the song found mainstream success because it was pushed by a genuine fan base. The writing on “Pop Out” is clear, while the lyrics in the chorus start by referencing poverty and end with a private plane. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged on stage to celebrate a job well done. It was a triumphant performance from a young rapper whose song-crafting ability puts him in position to stay at the head of the pack.