Big Boi Transforms Hippie Asheville to Hip-Hop City

Asheville, North Carolina isn’t exactly a cultural hub for rap music; it’s a hippie college town, full of bohemian street buskers and hipster hookah bars. But nobody seems to have informed Big Boi, whose commanding, career-spanning performance at the Orange Peel – the second date on his Shoes for Running Tour – briefly transformed the city into a buzzing hip-hop haven.

After emerging to a fanfare of triumphant horn samples, the rapper – decked out in a red baseball cap and massive gold chains – launched into a fiery version of “Objectum Sexuality,” an electro-pop stand-out from his most recent album, last year’s Dangerous Lies & Vicious Rumors. “ATL in the … house!” he shouted to the sold-out crowd, strutting across the stage in front of a five-piece band. In typical Big Boi fashion, he rarely paused to catch his breath from that point forward.

The set was a blur of bravado and charisma, blending a bevy of sizzling new joints with classics from his pioneering former group, Outkast. Getting lost in that stream of verses was disorienting, in a good way: In one of several medleys, “Objectum” merged seamlessly into a string of early-day gems (“ATLiens,” the spellbinding “Skew it on the Bar-B,” the Dirty South anthem “Rosa Parks”), offering the evening’s most breathless highlight.

We got so many hits!” Big Boi bragged moments later, doling out front-row high-fives like Halloween candy. “What … y’all wanna hear next?” As it turns out, they wanted all of those hits, from a sing-along take on the soulful “Mrs. Jackson” to a breezy run through “The Way You Move” to a painfully short tease of the hypnotic “B.O.B.” to an ultra-funky “So Fresh, So Clean.” It’s easy to forget just how many hip-hop classics this guy’s written – that is, until you hear them all live, cranked to a deafening blast…

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