B. Mack is Back: Beanie Sigel’s triumphant return to Philly
Beanie Sigel | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

If you ask any 30+ hip-hop head in the Philadelphia community who the top 5 rappers are from their city, chances are every single self-respecting one of them will mention Beanie Sigel in that list. The State Property general’s unapologetically street style, complete with his trademark gruff delivery and straightforward bars, has made him a permanent fixture in Philly’s hip-hop history. While his peak relevancy was a bit before my time, I still grew up listening to a ton of Beanie and his State Prop cohorts, just learning how to rhyme from their natural technical abilities. Unlike most of my mentors and older friends in the scene here, I still hadn’t seen Beans live, and he was definitely still on my bucket list of artists to catch. So, of course, I had to make it out to Voltage Lounge this past Saturday to see his return to his hometown, along with a bill of fellow Philly legends and strong up and comers.

Doors opened at 8:30pm; having been to enough Philly rap shows to know when to actually show up, I strolled in around 9:30, and the first opener hit the stage shortly after. I’ve got it down to a science at this point. New Jersey’s Leggy Bangers did his thing for the roughly 100-person crowd (disappointing so far for a Beanie show in Philadelphia), not letting the underwhelming size affect his confidence. During his 25 minute set, he brought out numerous guests, such as Stevie Franks and Craig Lynch. While it’s cool to have a couple features in your set, I would have liked to hear more of what Leggy can offer on his own. Also, he performed over his full vocals on nearly every track, which was a let down, simply because he’s proven he doesn’t need to do that. Still, a decent way to start off the night overall.

Nico The Beast | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | <A href=http://rejibphotography.com target="_blank">rejibphotography.com</a>

Nico The Beast | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

Next up was Nico the Beast, a fixture in the Philly rap scene for over a decade. His set was not what I normally see from him, as his 14 year old daughter was by his side the entire time, playing “hypewoman” to her pops and even rapping her own song by the end of the set (as well as singing an impressive hook). While I admire getting the family involved, and the young lady certainly has talent, I would say the vast majority of the crowd would agree with me that a Beanie Sigel show was perhaps not the best arena to have a child so heavily involved. One feature could have worked, but having her up there the whole time came off awkward in this setting. Even so, Nico powered through with his intricate, aggressive style, and the legendary DJ Soulbuck, who took over for his set only, held it down with excellent cuts.

Chris Vance | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | <A href=http://rejibphotography.com target="_blank">rejibphotography.com</a>

Chris Vance | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

Following was a member of Nico’s 30 & Over League collective, Chris Vance, who was returning to the stage in a major way after about two years off due to badly injuring both of his knees. He ripped right into his set, spitting precise bars over the classic “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” beat from Black Sheep. The crowd had grown to almost 200 by this point, and Chris seemed excited just to be back on stage in front of them. His movement was still limited, but his vocal intensity was not, knocking out tracks like “Geronimo” and “Last of the Best” with no issue. I would have liked to see more eye contact with the audience, but overall, it was a very solid way to come back to the Philly rap scene.

Slaughter Rico | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | <A href=http://rejibphotography.com target="_blank">rejibphotography.com</a>

Slaughter Rico | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

Slaughter Rico, one of the best pure rappers out of the 215 on a technical level, took the stage next. I may be biased since he’s kind of a big brother to me, but damn, this guy is good. Rocking a sharp tan leather jacket, black button up and shades, the street legend opened with the powerful “Number One Contender” to the crowd’s delight. It was one of the best sets I’ve seen from Rico; his banter between songs was funny and his delivery sharp as ever. New track “Death Wish”, where Rico calls himself “Charles Bronson from Girard and Thompson”, was especially dope. I’d like to see some more movement from him during songs, but he still made it clear there’s no denying his top-shelf status among those in-the-know in Philly hip-hop.

Reef the Lost Cauze | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | <A href=http://rejibphotography.com target="_blank">rejibphotography.com</a>

Reef the Lost Cauze | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

The crowd was now floating around 250, which is still disappointing at a show headlined by a hero of hip-hop in this city. We gotta do better, Philly. Regardless, another Philly legend, and the last opener of the night, was ready to make his mark on every one of those people: Reef the Lost Cauze. I walked up to the left side of the stage to watch him rock, but he was nowhere to be found. Then, a gruff voice amplified by a mic emerged from the crowd: “I don’t fuck with stages”. It became clear that Reef was gonna bring his show to the people, performing on the floor with a circle of excited fans around him. DJ Kirsch, who’d been spinning all night, dropped banger after banger for the Army of the Pharaohs member, who executed effortlessly. He performed numerous joints from his most recent EP, Furious Styles, produced by DJ Bear One, as well as classics like “The Sound of Philadelphia”. He even popped back on stage to share time with rising Jersey spitter Skrewtape, who ripped through his single “‘94 Ecto Cooler”, complete with additional verses from fellow Jersey resident Ren Thomas and Reef himself. The majestically bearded warrior (Reef told me to write that) was definitely the best performer of the night; he actually informed me he had cut his set 2 or 3 songs short, since he has already “made [his] point” and knew the crowd, and he himself, were ready for Beanie.

After a short break, a relatively trim Sigel confidently waltzed on stage around 12:15AM, only a half hour later than he was scheduled to (not bad for a Philly rap show). Clad in a fresh blue and white Nike windbreaker, he showed he wasn’t there to play any games, going straight into “Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)” without much talking. The rabid crowd, the majority of which had been waiting for the Broad Street Bully for 2 to 3 hours, obeyed the song’s title immediately. After a short introduction, Sigel (flanked by roughly 15 associates who were on stage for no apparent reason) began knocking out classic after classic, from solo joints to feature verses. “Beanie (Mack Bitch)”, “Me, You, Him & Her”, the Kanye West-produced “The Truth”, and even his classic freestyle over the “Banned From TV” beat were ran through within the first 15 minutes of his set. He looked very comfortable up there, and he was just getting started.

Beanie Sigel | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | <A href=http://rejibphotography.com target="_blank">rejibphotography.com</a>

Beanie Sigel | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

I was concerned that Beanie wouldn’t be at 100% for a couple reasons: one, after losing a lung to a bullet, I expected his breath control to be greatly affected (it wasn’t). Secondly, his voice on tracks has notably changed, becoming more of a menacing whisper due to his missing organ; while that can sound cool on record, I figured it would be hard to hear live. However, Sigel’s voice seemed to be restored to prime early 2000’s condition on this night, which was a very pleasant surprise. Lastly, his problems with alcohol and drug abuse are well documented and have hindered many live performances in the past…but at Voltage, he was sober, clear-minded and focused. He flawlessly ran through his Jay-Z collab “It’s On”, dropping the mic halfway through his bars just to let the crowd finish them for him. The emotional one-two combo of “This Can’t Be Life” and “What Ya Life Like” was a stand out as well.

Of course, it wouldn’t be right for Beanie to perform in the city that raised him without any of his State Prop brethren. He brought out 215 staple Freeway to rock their fan favorite “1-900-Hustler”, as well as Free’s own “Flipside” (although, unfortunately, Peedi Crakk did not join them). Young Chris also touched the stage, performing solo versions of Young Gunz heaters “Take It How U Want It” and “No Better Love”. After blazing through his verse from legendary Rocafella posse cut “Reservoir Dogs”, Beans brought Free right back up for arguably their most known collab, “Roc the Mic”, which blew the roof off. He knew the crowd wanted to hear classics, and that’s what he delivered. Other than a few acapella bars, I don’t think there was any newer material in the entire 45 minute set.

Beanie Sigel | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | <A href=http://rejibphotography.com target="_blank">rejibphotography.com</a>

Freeway | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

The only drawbacks of the performance were that by the end it seemed to be a bit unorganized, with way too many bodies on stage; in addition, I wasn’t feeling a couple of out of touch homophobic comments (quote from an acapella: “these new rappers faggots in the cut”), which made him sound like an old man shaking his fist from his porch at all the whippersnappers he doesn’t understand. But those moments were short lived, and he was clearly in good spirits overall. His set came to a close with the timeless “Feel It In The Air” (his best song, in my opinion), which had the crowd putting lighters up and rapping every word along with him. Freeway returned once more for the quintessential “What We Do”, with Beanie doing his underrated verse, and both rappers spitting Jay-Z’s feature word for word, which made me wonder…what if Hova set foot in Voltage Lounge to perform alongside his old buddies? Sure, that would never happen, but a boy can dream…

After a kind of awkward but fun Soul Train-style dance party, Beanie and company bid the hometown crowd farewell. The audience seemed thoroughly satisfied; Reef even told me this was one of the best Beanie sets he’s ever seen, out of the 8 or 9 he’s witnessed. It’s just a shame that a man who was once on top of a city with some of the richest hip-hop history ever didn’t sell out a small capacity venue there on a Saturday night. We could blame the steep $30 ticket prices (probably a side effect of Beanie’s asking price), or we could just blame the Philly hip-hop community’s trendy apathy towards whoever isn’t “the hottest out” popularity wise at this very moment; but pointing the finger does nothing. I walked away from this show feeling grateful that I got to see Beanie Sigel rock a ton of classics live without issue, sharing the stage with other Philly legends and future legends. I’m glad to see B. Mack back in seemingly good health, no matter if the building was packed to capacity or not. Salute to the Philly rap general who made it out of an unforgiving city and overcame personal and legal troubles to make it to the point where he’s feeling like he did at his prime again.

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