So I opened for Killa Cam in Ardmore
EDITOR’S NOTE: Philly rapper Voss has grabbed our attention here at The Key for his onstage charisma and lyrical wit, so when he hit us up pitching some musician’s-eye stories for the site, we were all ears. His first piece, a behind-the-scenes account of his gig opening for Cam’ron in Ardmore, is below.
Cam’ron is unquestionably one of the most beloved figures in hip-hop. He’s worshipped by 30 and 40 somethings who came up in the Dipset era, still wearing leather Pelle Pelle jackets and oversized fitteds with pride; but he’s also fully embraced by the younger hipsters who love his music for its tongue-in-cheek wit. The man has hits upon hits, and even at age 40, still has some of the best crowd control in the game. While I won’t say Killa Cam has been a direct influence on my personal musical style, he’s certainly one of my favorite rappers to listen to. Therefore, it was a no brainer for me to accept when I was offered an opening slot on the PA stop of his “Killa Season 2” tour.
This was not my first time doing a show with Cam’ron; I rocked with him in 2013 at The Blockley, formerly in West Philly (R.I.P.). Fittingly, three years later I was booked at the new venue run by the same folks who brought us The Blockley, The Ardmore Music Hall, located right outside the city. I’d never played there yet, as they just recently started booking hip-hop, and I was excited to do so. The Blockley was my favorite venue in my city, so I had a pretty high standard for its new suburban incarnation.
After sound checking with my DJ Jim Redz and my drummer “Jer-Z” Mason, I was feeling great. The sound was even better than I remember The Blockley’s being, and the engineer actually turned my voice up in the monitors when I asked him to (a rarity at rap shows). Even though the soundcheck was the first time all three of us actually rehearsed for this show, my mind was greatly eased by how well they both knew the music. Now to wait for the show to begin.
Doors opened at 7:30, but the crowd was slow to fill in. I was originally scheduled to hit the stage at 8:20, but thankfully my request to go on later was granted. By 8:45, the event’s host, Boom 103.9’s PFunk, told me they couldn’t wait any longer. After his intro, I came on stage to a larger crowd than expected; the rap gods were smiling upon me this evening. My set was packed with some of my most high-energy material, which was risky being that I was recovering from a bad cold I suffered from all week.
I paced myself and kept my voice in control so as not to lose it, and the crowd responded well. From new singles like “Non-Stop” and the unreleased “D.A.R.E.” to songs from my debut album Insatiable like “Angel Dust” and set closer “Respect My Mind,” featuring my good friend Milton on the hook, it was one of my personal best sets of the year.
Thanks to the venue’s top-notch sound, Jim and Jer-Z’s fantastic work, and me just, like, being a total pro, the set went without a hitch. The crowd had filled up to a couple hundred by the time I was halfway through. It’s always a sublime feeling to notice total strangers walking in, fully intending to make a beeline for the bar or continue their conversation, but to instead be drawn towards the stage, paying total attention to what you’re doing. It really was a beautiful crowd and I’m grateful that I got to share my songs with them, and that a bunch of them liked me enough to buy CDs and shirts after I was done.
Next up was the homie Chill Moody, who was coming directly from rocking another show at the Trocadero because he is a crazy person; chill out, Chill. But seriously, this was far from the first time we’ve shared a stage, and I knew the West Philadelphian would do his thing. He had the same setup as me, with his DJ Get Up and a drummer, which really added to his performance. Chill exemplified professionalism when, during a technical difficulty with sound, he went head-on into a dope a cappella to keep the crowd engaged while the issue was solved. From socially conscious singles like “Concrete Jungle” to bangers like the Wes Manchild-laced “November Funk,” it was one of the best sets I’ve seen from him. After wishing his mother a happy birthday and nailing another a cappella, Chill was finished warming up the stage, and it was time for Cam’ron…or was it?
A common practice in this shady business we call the music industry is artists buying their way onto a national act’s tour. Now, I don’t know if these three acts who went on before Cam did that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. The crowd seemed confused by their very presence; however, Boston’s Smoke Bulga, who went on first, did well, turning up with trap bangers, reminiscent of a more lyrically inclined OT Genasis. Things did not go as well for the duo KONG, whose emotionally charged, Mike Shinoda-influenced brand of rap fell pretty flat. Some heckling even took place; guess Ardmore really isn’t too different from Philly. The third touring opener, Jae Mansa, was honestly completely forgettable, as it seemed like the fifteen minutes he and his crew were on stage were just buying Cam time to get his wardrobe straight before he rocked.
Thanks to Ardmore Music Hall running a tight ship, the Dipset leader hit the stage right around 11pm as planned, without much delay before doing so. He walked out to the epic operatic samples of the “Killa Cam” beat from his magnum opus Purple Haze. Donning a neon highlighter-yellow bomber jacket (I later discovered his matching shoelaces), Cam was right in the pocket and never left it for the near-hour he performed.
As a devout fan who’s seen him three times prior, I can say I left wholly satisfied with the set. He did almost everything I wanted to hear (“What Means the World To You” would’ve been nice), and even pulled out unexpected tricks like the hook from Dipset brethren Jim Jones’ “We Fly High (Ballin’)” and some dope new records from his upcoming album Killa Season 2.
Hits like “Hey Ma,” “Down & Out” and “Suck It Or Not” were prerequisites, but Cam also busted out his verses from collabs like “Speaking In Tongues” with Vado and classics from his crew the Diplomats like “Dipset Anthem” and “I Really Mean It”, which he closed the set with. Philly’s own Young Chris of the Young Gunz even made an appearance. It was probably my favorite Cam’ron set I’ve seen (although watching him rap on top of the bar while ordering drinks at The Blockley was hard to top), and I was honored to have set the night off for him.
My man Chris Perella, who runs The Ardmore Music Hall, confirmed that they’ll be booking more hip-hop shows with hopes of bringing out larger and larger crowds, so let your rap-loving friends know they need to stop sleeping on this venue. The staff treats the artists very well and the sound is some of the best around Philly. I’m not letting my bias talk when I say to expect some great hip-hop shows from this spot in the near future. Until then, in Killa we trust. Amen.