As the lights dimmed in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, the ground shook with students rising from their seats and introductory music reverberating through mega speakers attached to the ceiling.
From the stage, a white fluorescent streak of light emerged through the smoke, crossing to point into the crowd. Then, from the wings, the long-awaited star of the night emerged.
“Oh man, University of Florida, what’s poppin’?” Joey Bada$$ yelled into his microphone, kicking off his set for the night as well as the start of the Fall semester.
Joey Bada$$ and Jean Deaux took to the stage to play a UF student-only concert at the O’Connell Center Wednesday night.
The show had been months in the making before it was announced publicly, Student Government Productions Chairman Michael Higgins said. Hoping to make the first-day concert an annual tradition, SGP already had a date in mind: Aug. 24, the first day of the Fall semester.
The first Fall opener concert, held in 2021, featured Brockhampton, a hip-hop band with more than five million monthly streams on Spotify.
In April, SGP surveyed the student body for potential artists. From there, the team consulted its budget, and SG leadership began to reach out to artists for availability. In the end, Joey Bada$$, who was their first choice artist, agreed to the gig, Higgins said.
Although it started raining as soon as the concert started, students trickled in slowly throughout the night. The pit wasn’t completely filled, but students filled up most lower-level seats, and some upper-level seats at its peak attendance.
“He’s like a hip-hop legend, and he’s playing here for free — so why wouldn’t I be here?" said Aishani Lahiri, an 18-year-old UF business administration freshman.
Tickets opened for pick-up Aug. 19, but students continued to gather at the box office around 4 p.m. the night of the show to grab their pass.
Some students said they got tickets because their friends were going, others because they wanted to discover a new artist.
Lena Filkin, an 18-year-old UF mathematics freshman and self-described Joey Bada$$ fan, waited at the O’Connell Center about an hour and a half for doors to open after getting her tickets to ensure she’d get front row seats.
“I love Joey Bada$$,” Filkin said. “Honestly, breathing the same air as him, being able to see him directly in front of me is what I'm most excited for.”
Higgins said data on ticket sales and attendee numbers weren’t available as of Thursday evening.
Students in the backmost section of the pit gathered at the fence facing the stage, physically reserving spaces closer to the front. They chatted and bobbed their heads to filler music while seats filled.
Jean Deaux, wearing a black top and pants with waist beads, started her set at 7:12 p.m. During her song “Healer,” the crowd waved their phone flashlights, swaying to the rhythm of the song.
Although Brianna Bennett, a 20-year-old UF sociology junior, said she couldn’t hear the set very well, she still thought the opening act was wonderful.
“I felt like the instrumentals overlaid her voice a little too much,” Bennett said. “But I love Jean Deaux.”
Sofia Aguirre, a 20-year-old digital arts and sciences junior, said she would’ve liked to have seen more visuals in the opening performance, but she liked Deaux’s attitude towards the crowd.
Between the opening act and Joey Bada$$’s appearance, a DJ took the stage, playing various hip-hop and rap hits. The audience rose to the occasion, standing and singing along; at one point, they did the wave, despite being in the dark, by raising their phone flashlights one section at a time.
One audience member yelled, “We want Joey Bada$$!” and another yelled, “Go Joey!” in anticipation of his arrival.
When Joey Bada$$ took the stage at 8:33 p.m., the audience was chanting his name.
Bada$$ told the crowd he was honored to open up the school year. He also called on long-time listeners of his music to show the newcomers “how it was done.”
Before his performance of “Love Is Only a Feeling,” Bada$$ called on couples in the crowd to be featured on a live “kiss cam.” He dedicated the love song to all the “loverboys and lovergirls” in the audience.
He also dedicated a performance of “Head High” to all the rappers who have passed while young in their careers, mentioning the late XXXTentacion, who died in a 2018 shooting in Deerfield Beach. He and Bada$$ had collaborated in 2018 on “infinity (888),” which hit #83 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Bada$$ also touched on political issues during his songs “Rockabye Baby” and “Land of the Free,” both from his 2017 album “All AmeriKKKan Bada$$,” which touch on issues of police brutality and racism.
“Rockabye Baby” includes the line, “F*** Donald Trump.” In his performance of “Land of the Free,” Bada$$ replaced Trump’s name with Joe Biden’s in the line “And Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over.”
Bada$$ closed his set with a performance of “Devastated,” which has nearly three million streams on Spotify. Before the show, several students said they looked forward to this song in particular.
As students headed out, Bada$$ passed through a fenced-in walkway in the audience pit to take photos and videos with students. One of them was 20-year-old finance junior Cameron Afram-Gyening.
“Joey delivered a fire set,” Afram-Gyening said. “He was awesome.”
Toward the end of his set, Bada$$ apologized to the crowd for what he described as technical difficulties, though he didn’t specify what those difficulties were.
The Alligator’s public records requests inquiring about pay for artists is still pending with the UF public records office.
SGP aims to provide shows at a free or reduced cost for students, according to their agency bio. Higgins said the department was happy to be able to make tickets free.
“It’s all for the students,” Higgins said. “We don’t bring who we want to bring. We bring who we think would have a great show and who the student body would enjoy.”
Contact Alissa at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.
Alissa Gary is a second-year journalism major who's covering K-12 education for The Alligator. She has previously reported on student government and university administration. Aside from writing, she likes to take care of her plants and play (and usually win) the New York Times sudoku puzzle.