Smile Politely

Slim with the tilted brim at the Canopy

The minute I heard Snoop Dogg was coming to Urbana, I secured my tickets. I wouldn’t call myself a “fan,” as I don’t own any albums, I’m not really a part of the hip hop scene, and I grew up with a cornfield as my back yard. However, while Joel was holding down the awkward white kid scene in Iowa, I spent the summers of my youth cruising around on bikes with my bff to hits from The Doggfather, and later (when said friend had upgraded to a Sunfire) Tha Last Meal.  My childhood bestie was way more tan than a child would be allowed these days, and my mom was an immigrant, so between the two of us we made up the “culture” of our rural Illinois neighborhood. We didn’t have access to full-length albums, since I wasn’t even allowed to watch The Fresh Prince of Bel Air due to it’s “racy content,” so the edited songs on the only hip-hop radio station that barely spanned the air waves from Chicago would have to suffice. In our minds, listening to these songs and memorizing every lyric from Salt ‘n Peppa, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg was not only a right, it was our duty.

At one point an Egyptian family moved to our street, and we immediately befriended the child closest to our age and asked if he had any rap music we could borrow. He called us racist (a first for us, no one gets called racist in an all-white town), and then smiled as he rummaged through boxes of packed items until he came across a CD. “Old school,” he said as he handed over Doggystyle. We had never heard so many curse words in our lives, and couldn’t fathom how we had survived our summers not knowing the full lyrics to “Gin and Juice” — MTV replays of the music video didn’t do it justice!

Flash forward a decade or two and I arrived at the Canopy Club after breaking two ice scrapers on my car’s windshield. The weather was not on my side, and I was upset I missed any and all opening acts (DJ Belly and Positive Vibr8ions), but I’d made it to the Snoop show and I was stoked. I wondered how many people would brave the impending snowpocalypse, and noticed a sudden surge of tickets for sale on Craigslist around 8pm before I ventured out of the house. Inside, my breath was immediately taken away by the densely-packed front room, a thick haze of evaporating sweat steaming up from many many white peoples’ heads. I only took two random elbows to the ribs as I weaseled my way through the crowd toward the main stage. The room was packed to the gills and I felt light-headed even before finding the bar. Deciding the balcony might have a little more breathing room, I again tried to dodge elbows, lighters, and spilling drinks as restless, sweaty, crowd members released gutteral howls of “Snooooooooooooooooooooop.” It was 11:45 p.m. and those who had been there for hours already looked to be on their last legs.

Music blared from the speakers as hundreds of people waited for Snoop to take the stage. Any break in song created a venue for the “Snooooooop” cries, as someone behind me pleaded, “You could at least show some f***ing music videos! We’re dying here!” Around 12:30 a.m. the lights finally dimmed and the crowd went crazy. Snoop’s crew came out on stage and all of a sudden, there he was — Snoop Dogg in an Illini jersey with a blinged-out mic, performing to a crazy-exhausted, yet thrilled, audience.

Too much went on during the short 50-minute set, causing an intense sensory overload. Snoop jumped from song to song to song, a fabulous mix-tape version of his biggest hits. He hit on women in the audience between breaths, asked how many college students were in the crowd, and shared the stage with an old man who danced around, constantly gyrating his nether region toward the avid fans in the front row. In the balcony, I witnessed a beautifully-orchestrated scene of indulgence: a never-ending wave of smoke puffing up from the main floor, attractive co-eds grinding on each other while their dates held the beer and watched, countless white kids of questionable age rapping along with every word that spilled out of Snoop’s mouth. An ASL interpreter grooved up on stage, barely trying to keep up with signing the lyrics. Snoop Dogg pointed her out several times and joked around by asking, “How do you sign [various lyrics]?”

Toward the end of the set, Snoop doubled over in a coughing fit, after goading everyone in the crowd to “get out that sh*t and smoke it.” The only time the myriad of undergrads around me weren’t able to sing lyrics by heart was when Snoop and his men covered Rick James’ “Mary Jane.”

I didn’t come to the show with many expectations, since I haven’t listened to much hip hop this decade. While the set was short and the room was unbearably hot (considering we were in the middle of an ice storm), the crowd’s unwavering enthusiasm kept the atmosphere alive. There were folks of all ages, races and backgrounds dancing like mad, raising their hands up when told, and having a friendly good time — not much more can be expected from a show like this. Champaign-Urbana showed up in full-force, and proved that inclement weather won’t stop us from attending one of the biggest shows of the year.

I’d like to give a special shout-out to all the Canopy crew working their asses off last night. No matter how much you made in tips, I’m positive it’s not enough for the crazy atmosphere and crazier patrons you handled!

All photos by Justine Bursoni

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