Sam Lao at the Kessler Theater on Thursday night

Sam Lao at the Kessler Theater on Thursday night

JEREMY BIGGERS

The crowd at the Kessler Theater on Thursday night knew what they were in for when they showed up early for Sam Lao's opening set. With a staggering delivery and dynamic stage presence, the self-assured Dallas rapper knows how to engage an audience and keep them enthralled.

The pre-weekend lineup featured a full set of local hip-hop artists and rappers, including headliner Dezi 5 and another opener, Buffalo Black. Lao is supporting her newest record, SPCTRM. In an outfit as loud as her personality, Lao announced her presence the best way she can -- spewing heavy-footed words with unfaltering confidence and the swagger of a professional with 2013 track "Pilgrim." The four years she's spent onstage and on the road has paid off; the 25-year-old strolls through her wordy verses, adding animated movements as she moved through her set.

Aside from stellar beats and punchy choruses in singles such as "Pineapple" and "F.H.S.," there's something else to make note. Her lyrical stories are more than boastful declarations, they're statements from an independent female artist who isn't afraid to speak out. At the close of the lighter, sexier "Gold Link," Lao explained the track was written to encourage women to approach men in the dating scene instead of waiting around.

Lao performed her version of Nas and Lauryn Hill's legendary hip-hop record "If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)," which focuses on pushing past obstacles and standing your ground during trying times. Lao sang the tranquil, subdued chorus, showing her vulnerability and versatility. 

She interacted with the audience throughout her 45-minute set, explaining why she wrote certain songs and showing love to another local artist, Erykah Badu. Lao performed another hypnotic track off her 2016 record, "Be Cool," which references the Dallas legend as one of her icons. Brimming with confidence and an unapologetic attitude, Lao is making bold moves on and off stage with her first full length.

Not to be overshadowed, Dezi 5 closed out the evening with pizzazz, delivering his signature soul/funk/pop mix in colorful, dance-worthy fashion. His smooth vocals collided with energetic, remix-style beats that turned the historic venue into a late-night club. Fans were on their feet, dancing alongside Dezi 5, born Dezman Lehman, as he marched across the stage with his dancers.

Flashing #Dallasbitch onscreen, Dezi performed the popular single with force, proudly promoting his hometown roots. After two songs he was already in a different outfit, showing off his theatrical flair. The crowd followed every note, moving and shaking to the vibrant tunes, celebrating an early start to the upcoming weekend.

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