Concert review: So So Def 25th anniversary concert opens State Farm Arena with hits, surprise guests

Jermaine Dupri led the Atlanta-focused night of music
A packed crowd opened State Farm Arena for the So So Def 25th anniversary concert on Oct. 21, 2018. Photo: Robb Cohen/ Robb Cohen Photography & Video /

A packed crowd opened State Farm Arena for the So So Def 25th anniversary concert on Oct. 21, 2018. Photo: Robb Cohen/ Robb Cohen Photography & Video /

Jermaine Dupri and the crew at State Farm Arena both had reason to celebrate Sunday night.

It was a milestone for Dupri – a concert commemorating the 25th anniversary of his SoSo Def record label – and the first night of operation for the venue, which opened for its inaugural event after $200 million invested and two years of off-Hawks-season overhauling.

»»PHOTOS: Check out our gallery from the show

The show, dubbed "Cultural Curren$y" by Dupri, was envisioned as an 11-date tour. But Dupri, 46, claimed he nixed the other dates because he wasn't satisfied with the production, so his home city bore the distinction of not only christening the venue previously known as Philips Arena, but spotlighting the artists born from his label, together, for one night only.

From the audience standpoint, no major snafus occurred during the three-hour event, which started about 40 minutes later than advertised. Some food vendors might have underestimated their appeal as pre-show lines were extremely long; the chicken and shrimp at Zac Brown’s Social Club sold out shortly after the concert kicked off; and Rita’s Italian Ice was already closing its registers about 30 minutes into the show.

Xscape harmonized beautifully during their set at the So So Def anniversary concert on Oct. 21, 2018. Photo: Robb Cohen/ Robb Cohen Photography & Video /

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Inside the arena, where new seats (and armrest cupholders) greeted a packed, if not completely sold out, audience, the parade of familiar names and voices launched with Jagged Edge ("Let's Get Married") and Xscape ("Just Kickin' It") before the man of the night, clad in a So So Def hoodie and sparkly kicks, appeared to perform his 1998 seducer, "Going Home With Me."

The production of the show was simple, but effective. DJ Nabs perched above a lighted cube, while another lighted backdrop fronted a lift that transported many of the performers to the top of the stage.

As advertised, the So So Def roll call also included Da Brat, Anthony Hamilton, Bow Wow, Bone Crusher, Youngbloodz, Dem Franchize Boyz and J-Kwon, all of whom performed separate sets of varying length in non-stop rotation.

Those who recall the 20th anniversary concert for Dupri’s label at the Fox Theatre also likely remember a guest list that included Jay-Z and Mariah Carey - just a couple of high-profile friends and co-workers of Dupri, who has produced, written and performed on hundreds of recordings and landed in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in May.

This time, the focus was expected to underscore So So Def’s Atlanta legacy, and the surprise artists reflected that.

Killer Mike popped out with Bone Crusher (and also gave a humorous shout-out to his new Swag Shop at the arena); Monica, in long, black Cher hair and thigh-high white boots, belted "U Should've Known Better" while Dupri roamed the stage; Bow Wow's endless, often aggressive set, included an assist from the angelic-voiced Jacquees and a reprise of "Girlfriend" with "Scream" tour alum and fellow shirtless buddy Omarion; and Ludacris, naturally, joined Dupri to bound through their city anthem, "Welcome to Atlanta."

Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also made an appearance to talk about the strength of the entertainment industry in Georgia and her goals for health care and employment in the state.

Anthony Hamilton brought some love to the room at State Farm Arena on Oct. 21, 2018 for the So So Def 25th anniversary concert. Photo: Robb Cohen/ Robb Cohen Photography & Video /

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Some of the highlights of the earlier sets included Hamilton, in his broad-brimmed hat, two-stepping through “Amazing”; Tameka “Tiny” Cottle handling lead on the finger-snapping jam “Do You Want To” while LaTocha Scott added potent vocal flourishes; and Youngbloodz keeping the crowd in prime shout-along form with their anthems “85” and “Damn!”

A touching moment arrived when Dupri told the crowd, "If it weren't for Kris Kross, I wouldn't be there this night." He then asked fans to hold up their phones and "light this ***** up" in memory of Chris "Mac Daddy" Kelly, who died in 2013. 

Da Brat, in her platinum dreadlocks and Chicago Cubs jacket, returned to the stage to join Dupri for what he said was the first time he performed the song live – Kris Kross’ iconic “Jump,” which catapulted the then-pre-teens (and 20-year-old Dupri, who wrote and produced the hit) to MTV stardom in 1992.

More than 25 years later, Dupri’s legacy is still escalating.

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