Judging from their performances at the Middle East Downstairs on Thursday night, it’s easy to see why tour mates Kitty and Danny Brown have connected: Both treat their shows as if they dropped in on a raucous house party and decided to grab the mike. The difference is that Brown’s material actually works in this context.
Stalking onstage in plain black T-shirt and puffed-out afro, Brown opened with “Witit,” a deserving introduction to his style. The song is packed the same stomping percussion and gleeful sex-and-drugs-fueled hedonism of someone like Waka Flocka Flame, only Brown can actually twist together a lyrically clever and breathlessly delivered verse to go along with it, though censors may prevent further elaboration on that subject.
The sold-out crowd shouted along the lyrics to “I Will” (“What your man won’t do, [expletive] I will” he promised) and “Bruiser Brigade” from his superb 2011 album, “XXX.” The sexual bravado worked because of Brown’s personality, which skews toward crudely charming rather than aggressive or threatening.
Meanwhile, Kitty acted exactly as you might expect a 20-year-old woman who’s stumbled into fame and a tour opening for her favorite rapper might act: smiling, brimming with energy, tossing her long red hair and dropping her voice into a gruff aggro-rock growl (as best she could) for emphasis on occasion as she worked through songs like “Okay Cupid” and “Orion’s Belt.” She looked genuinely pleased to be there and eager to impress, more than one could say about some rappers with considerably more success.
The problem is that, in any other context, she probably would not be there. The Internet is a funny place, where novelty often trumps talent and fascination supplants interest as the engine driving the conversation. Kitty’s current success was born within that framework, and by removing it, we’re forced to see her as who she is: a bright but inexperienced performer whose material translates weakly outside of YouTube and MP3s, and someone whose coveted role opening on a national tour for one of hip-hop’s most engaging acts feels a task well beyond her current abilities.