At a Brooklyn Concert, Defiance Is in the Air

“I always been defiant,” proclaimed Lizzo, a Minneapolis-based singer and rapper. With the crowd shouting in approval, she continued, “I been black my whole life. I been a woman my whole life. I been big my whole life.”

At The Day of the Defiant Ones, a musical celebration of the new four-part HBO docu-series, the artists in attendance used the time before their performances to share their own personal stories of defiance.

The Defiant Ones tells the story of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine -- a legendary hip hop figure and a record producer-turned-mogul -- tracing their success in the music industry alongside the personal and professional setbacks they encountered and vanquished along the way.

Over a thousand attendees packed into Brooklyn Steel, a Williamsburg warehouse-turned- multilevel concert hall, for a multi-artist concert headlined by the rapper 2 Chainz. Guests were greeted with themed cocktails that drew inspiration from the film and its protagonists, such as Dre and Snoop Dogg’s "Gin and Juice." Throughout the night, the culinary collective Ghetto Gastro served finger foods blended from their native Bronx cuisine. The venue’s main floor featured a live silk screen tee-shirt print shop, where attendees were encouraged to fill in the blank space following the phrase “You Will Never” to name the obstacles they’d overcome.

The crowd was caught up in the spirit of defiance. Claudio Simpkins, a Ridgewood-based attorney positioned near the congested front of the venue’s pit, expressed his appreciation for Vince Staples’s performance and the rapper’s embrace of the “oddball in the rap game” style and persona. “He definitely stands out as his own man,” Simpkins said.

Ray Spears, a Harlem-based photographer who stood front and center throughout the entirety of the concert, pointed out where he felt the artists were most in sync with message.

“Cakes da Killa, for example, is an openly gay, black male rapper,” Spears said, noting how rare that makes him in the hip-hop world.

Spears also applauded Lizzo’s use of plus-sized dancers instead of “runway models.” The collection of artists, he said, “display a type of defiance that’s truly representative of the cultural moment we’re living in.”

Backstage, 2 Chainz recalled the doubts he faced throughout his music career and his life.

“They said I would never leave the trap,” he said, referring to his life of drug dealing before his music gained an international following. Leaning into the theme of the night, the Atlanta artist added, “Now I’m the number one biggest trap artist in the world. I am a defiant one.”