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Polo G proves a point in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ACL set

Ramon Ramirez
Special to the American-Statesman

Chicago rapper Polo G performed for little more than 20 minutes Sunday at the Honda stage. Call it a subversive flex against the power structures of mainstream festival expectations — or an inconsiderate throwaway appearance — but we still got an enriching gig that left it all out there. 

Full hours are for suckers, anyway. 

As an artist, Polo G has been through dark days. He writes about them exceptionally.

Here he asked a field of predominantly white teens to “throw their gang signs up.” It showed just how much Austin City Limits Music Festival has become a hip-hop-first fest in the past 10 years, as SoundCloud rap seizes the imaginations and interests of, conservatively speaking, most young people. 

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Polo G performs Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, on the Honda stage during the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

(As for the gang signs, I have to assume there was some bad blood when it comes to Lake Travis vs. Westlake. And of course, there's the side-eye to those carefree Tarrytown kids.)

“I’m from Chicago, Illinois, I went No. 1 with this,” Polo G yelled before hit single “Rap Star,” a song that did top the Billboard chart in April. “So sing your (expletive) heart out.” 

Polo G — wearing white and red Jordan sneakers, a giant “1300” pendant on his chain (for the Chicago gang), and a white shirt that read “Never bite the hand that feeds you” with the word “fool” written over “you” as if to buck that conventional wisdom and encourage you to go rogue on your own path — seemed used to the modern festival setting. This was just another truck stop, as he unapologetically barrel-rolled through his brisk set. 

He asked everyone to put their phone lights up during “Pop Out” — the scorching afternoon sun be darned. He’s earned the unusual request: The 22-year-old is a survivor of the tragic and urgent Chicago drill hip-hop scene, having reportedly quit ecstasy after a drug overdose in 2019. Between his first and third records, he lost friend and rap star Juice Wrld to a codeine overdose, and he became a father. But last year’s “The Goat” proved that the artist (real name Taurus Tremani Bartlett) is a stellar writer full of deft wit who has the rap chops to stick around a while. Street anthems like “Go Stupid” are vivid and fatalistic but also loose and playful like a pregame warmup: “Tried to throw us some bullets, but we made 'em fumble — like nah, you ain't gettin' that pass off,” he jokes on it.

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Polo G performs Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, on the Honda stage during the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

On “Toxic,” he waded into the audience as adoring screeching overtook his live microphone.

“I’m losing my breath up here,” he admitted after 10 breakneck minutes of cold, brazen rapping that overpowered the DJ-programmed backing vocals.

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He’s on an impressive three-albums-in-three-years creative pace, having recently released the 20-song “Hall of Fame” in June and hopping on an Eminem song that soundtracks the upcoming “Venom” sequel.

Polo G recently tweeted: “I ain’t gone lie this tour finna b lit I ain’t popped out fr in like 2 & a half years I missed the road.” He included two tornado emoji and a money bag emoji. His Zilker set was precisely that.