Bryson Tiller ‘Sets It Off’ at Radio City Music Hall


The velvet seats of NYC’s famed Radio City Music Hall were mostly filled by groups of young women, though a few couples are sprinkled throughout the multi-leveled theater. The audience buzzed in anticipation as they waited for the night’s headliner, singer/rapper Bryson Tiller, to appear. When the lights finally dim, the crowd collectively shrieked.

“Rain On Me,” the SWV-sampled intro to Tiller’s sophomore album, True To Self, plays while clouds of smoke enveloped the stage. A DJ pumps up the crowd before the night’s main attraction, Tiller himself, steps onto the stage in MC mode. He starts with the rap-driven “Self-Made,” and when he pauses to take a breath, the crowd screams. “New York City what’s up,” Tiller asks as colorful lights shift around him. “Welcome to the Set It Off Tour, my name is Bryson Tiller.”

As Tiller transitioned into R&B with offerings from his highly popular debut album TRAPSOUL, as well as the chart-topping True To Self, you can’t help but notice the striking similarity between his live vocals and his recordings. On stage, whether rapping or singing, he sounds nearly identical to the Bryson Tiller you hear on the radio. This is the most refreshing aspect of Tiller’s show, in that he doesn’t rely on stage theatrics to move the crowd. He does, however, make sure to cater to the local audience.

After performing “Don’t Get Too High,” Tiller asks the crowd if they’re really ready to ‘set it off.’ Fans jump up from their seats and cheer as Brooklyn rap-veteran Fabolous steps out onto the stage. Tiller retreats as Fab, assured and encouraged by the screaming crowd, shouts out all the independent women in the house. He performs a handful of his own hits before Tiller returns to reclaim the stage. “Make some noise for one of my favorite rappers,” Tiller boasts as he and Fabolous trade positions.

Visibly energized, Tiller is center stage once again, performing “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Honey” before introducing one of his favorite singers (as well as the tour’s opening act), H.E.R. The laid-back, R&B beauty captivates the crowd as she sings “Focus,” a fan favorite from the relative newcomer’s debut EP. When Tiller reemerges, he’s inspired to slow it down with “Before You Judge.” When the song ends, he uses the opportunity to explain that his experience in the music industry hasn’t been easy. “Ya’ll don’t know a lot about this industry,” Tiller says, “but this is how I dealt with it.” The audience instantly rises when they hear the intro to Tiller’s 2016 hit “Exchange.” The momentum continues to build as he performs “Stay Blessed,” “Something Tells Me” and “Run Me Dry” before getting into his verse from 2017’s summer smash, the DJ Khaled and Rihanna collaboration “Wild Thoughts.”

The audience now in the palm of his hand, Tiller turns things up a notch when A$AP Ferg, a prominent member of the Harlem-bred collective A$AP Mob, hits the stage. The crowd is so animated when Ferg raps, that you can actually feel the theatre shake as fans bounce up and down. Ferg’s energy matches his audience as he jumps off stage, performing three tracks before Tiller returns to the forefront.

Tiller seamlessly transitions back to his softer side with “Been That Way.” But of course it wouldn’t be a proper Bryson Tiller show without “Don’t,” the standout single that marked his introduction to fans. The entire audience is on their feet singing along to the music when Tiller takes a moment to exhale. “Damn, ya’ll sound beautiful.” With the crowd invigorated, Tiller pauses to reflect, once more, on the pressures of his particular journey. “Sometimes I look in the mirror and feel like I can’t do this,” he admits. “But ya’ll remind me that I am capable.” “Remember,” he continues, “to always, always be true to yourself.”

This declaration sets the stage for Tiller to perform the title track from his sophomore LP, before he says he needs to set it off one last time. He dedicates the tour’s title single to his “ride or dies,” then offers a soothing, choir-infused rendition of “Set It Off” that finally manages to subdue his audience. “New York City I love you, thank you for coming out tonight,” Tiller exclaims as he heads for the stage curtains. The lights go bright, and with that, Bryson Tiller’s “Set It Off” experience is over.

Written by Shaira B.

(Photo by Bennett Raglin / Getty Images)

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