Dec 5, 2018

We delve into the relationship between headliners and openers.


by ASadler


In the professional world, the old saying goes “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” One can have all the technical skills there are to possess, but if someone with a strong network or hiring power doesn’t validate them to their colleagues then it’s possible that person may never get noticed. There’s a similar approach with music, only it’s more like “it’s not what you can do musically, but who has heard you and who is going to give you the chance to show the world.” Though the first thing to come to mind with that phrase is likely labels signing artists, which acts as confirmation that fans ought to pay attention to their content, this also pertains to tours.

It seems like the excitement for big tours has only grown over the years, with artists putting a lot of thought and effort into creating an amazing experience for fans through social media promotion and merchandise. It’s how they make their money, so of course, they do all they can to get fans to open up their wallets for a good time. However, fans typically don’t see what those individual superstars have planned for them in their sets until two or three hours into the show. The time prior to that, though, has been extremely influential and is another element of tours that impacts the fans–the openers.

That 45 minutes to an hour has been a force multiplier for some of the biggest stars today, such as Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott and more. These sets display budding talent who are sure to be stars down the road, raising awareness for fans and giving the artists a taste of what it’s like to be on the big stage. The openers are the real winners on these tours.

Opening on a superstar’s tour is a huge co-sign, bigger than a remix from them or being signed to their label. The ability to be seen physically in the presence or vicinity of a star can speak volumes. Superstars can direct fans’ opinions however they see fit as their perspectives are weighed heavily, especially on music and fellow acts. Thus, seeing someone like Rick Ross standing next to Wale and Meek Mill back in the early 2010s, before ultimately signing both of them, confirmed Rozay’s ability to seek out talent and the fact Wale and Meek were on their way to greatness. And greatness they both have achieved. *Rick Ross grunt*

Who can forget when Drake opted to bring K Dot and Rocky along for his 2012 Club Paradise tour, turning down larger acts like J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean with the knowledge they would have likely made the tour that much larger and sold a crazy amount of tickets. He wanted to create a moment where people would be confused as to who the two were, before seeing their immense success years later and being able to say they were a part of it. Drake saw the potential in these men and gave them a huge launchpad to really penetrate the industry. Not to mention the fire track “Fuckin Problems” we got from the three of them and 2 Chainz.

Travis Scott has worked tirelessly over the last year to bring the Astroworld concept to life and make it more than just an album. His efforts on the Wish You Were Here tour have exceeded all expectations, but we can’t help but draw some excitement from his openers Sheck Wes, Gunna, Trippie Redd, and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director, DJ Virgil Abloh. Sheck, Gunna, and Redd have all had successful years musically, and collaborated with Travis previously.

The existing relationships along with his willingness to give the young artists the opportunity to perform their content live to his raucous fanbase just gives fans more names to list when they recall the epic event. A similar opportunity that Travis was given a little over a year prior.

It’s crazy thinking of Trav as merely an opener back in Summer 2017. He was coming off of his successful 2016 release Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight and big features galore (shoutout SZA). Yet when it’s Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN tour, Travis opening upstarts to make a little more sense. All credit to Trav as he’s been doing the music thing for a while, and has stans who would go to bat at the drop of a dime but Kendrick is one of the few artists whose fanbase might be larger and more loyal. However, all that did was give the Houston rager an opportunity to capitalize on a different demographic and bring his own brand of energy to the tour. After all, “DAMN” might be the most accurate description of a live Travis show so him being on a tour with that name was quite serendipitous.

Along the TDE lines, newcomer Reason stopped by The Joe Budden Podcast and mentioned how he opened for Joe back when he was first coming up. Around the 38-minute mark of the above video, the West Coast wordsmith said that his crew of about 20 people who supported his music were especially excited to attend the show as Joe was the headliner. It’s likely that there were hundreds of other people who felt the same about Joe, but they didn’t have the Reason affiliation.

Yet they were able to get a peak at what he could do early in his career, evidently, there were high levels of skill brewing within him. Now, with his debut album out and a deal with arguably the best label out right now, the sky is the limit and those who saw him back in 2014 when they only went to see Joe can say they were around when the foundation was being built. It’s possible any of the attendees who are witnessing his progress now see no surprise, because they already knew.

Bri Steves, rapper-singer out of Philadelphia, has been buzzing majorly due to her single “Jealousy” and a deal with Atlantic Records. She blends ratchetness and elegance in a manner similar to the ever so popular Cardi BTone Stith has been making his own waves out in California, working alongside Ty Dolla $ign to create sultry, moody R&B music fit for a romantic dinner or the bedroom.

These two had the unique opportunity to open up for H.E.R on the New York leg of the I Used To Know Her tour, contrasting her instrument-heavy R&B selections and giving fans a diverse range of sound to enjoy. Though H.E.R is relatively new to the mainstream music scene, the loyalty in her fanbase paralleled by few. Bringing these two talented artists along gives them a marker on her fans’ radars and will cause them to pay attention more when they see a new drop on one of the streaming services. Though their stories aren’t finished being written yet, the future is bright and this co-sign simply adds some more light.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play here, as many of the stars mentioned who got their buzz from opening up for larger acts often turn around and do the same for those coming behind them. Kendrick got the Drake nod way back, then he invited Travis along several years later, which lead to Trav bringing along budding youngsters of today. They could invite any of the big names, but they recognize their careers were significantly impacted by these moments and they work to continue the ripple effect.

Slam dunks in basketball are always cool, but there’s nothing like a point guard lobbing up a ball before their teammate grabs it out of the air and jams it in. Though it’s easy to assume many superstars are full of themselves and want to be stingy with the acclaim, the names mentioned here have taken a golden opportunity to throw an alley oop to a younger talent. And it has often lead to some great careers.

Like Drake said in “Mob Ties”, “Lead the league in scorin’ man but look at my assists.” Kudos to artists who have decided to not just score, but throw some dimes to the younger players on the court. Everybody eats.