More than 5,600 students took advantage of sunny, 70-degree weather Saturday to hear rapper Kanye West perform and enjoy free food, games and amusements at a record-breaking Spring Fling.
Students waved their hands to the beat during West’s performance, swaying to the loud music that boomed from University Yard. Saturday’s crowd was a record for a Program Board Spring Fling or Fall Fest, outnumbering the 5,000 students three years ago that saw the Roots.
West referred to himself as a rapper who appealed to the average person.
“I know what you are going through,” West said, “I’ve been there.”
Despite his album title “The College Dropout,” which is currently the No. 14 album in the country and No. 5 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts, West spoke to students about the importance of staying in school.
West received a college scholarship from an art school in Chicago, but dropped out in less than a year to pursue a music career. West’s album title means that it is important for people to set their own goals in life, and pursue their own interests rather than what society tells them to do, he said.
West also told students about his experiences as a teenager working at Old Navy for minimum wage and about the difficulties he overcame to get to where he is today.
“So I turned tragedy to triumph, make music that’s fire, spit my soul through the wires,” he sang.
West’s mix of R&B and digital technology included a guitar player, supporting rappers and solo performances by his piano accompanist.
The hour-long performance featured his hit song “Through the Wire,” which records his personal struggle after a near-fatal car accident. West also performed “When It All Falls Down” and “Slow Jams,” and sampled songs from famous artists such as Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, and Alicia Keyes.
Students cheered and applauded for West’s choreographed step pattern with accompanying rap artists at the conclusion of his set.
“He was really good,” senior Matt Charamella said. “He played what we all wanted to hear.”
The performance also attracted fans from other D.C. schools.
“My friends and I heard that Kanye West was performing, so we knew we had to come,” said Sam Smith, a freshman at the University of the District of Columbia.
Jon Reiling, chair of PB, which planned the event, said his organization began negotiations with West a week after his album came out at the end of February.
PB officers declined to comment on the cost of bringing West to campus or the total cost of Spring Fling.
West’s performance continued a trend of bringing rap artists to campus over the past few years. Jurassic 5, the Roots, Redman and Busta Rhymes have performed for Fall Fests and Spring Flings for the past few years.
“Typically rap artists do very well, so we will probably see at least one rap performance at next year’s flings,” Reiling said.
Boston hip-hop performers NBS warmed up the crowd with songs including “Rock Wit Me” and an anti-President Bush political message. The rappers criticized the war in Iraq and other Bush policies.
“With Bush in the White House there ain’t no jobs out here, so keep your grades up,” NBS said.
The rappers rallied the audience with a “Fuck Bush” chant.
While some students said they enjoyed NBS, they said they were not familiar with the group.
“It’s hard to really enjoy the performance when nobody knows the music,” freshman Heidi Bucheister said.
GW rock bands Exit Clov and The Sunday Mail also took to the stage, after winning the PB’s Battle of the Bands two weeks ago.
Dubbed “Bling Bling Spring Fling,” Saturday’s event featured “bling bling” bead making stations, henna body tattoos and amusements, including a mechanical bull, gladiator joust, obstacle course and dunk tank.
Some students said they did not enjoy the event, despite free amusements and a concert.
“It seems like all of the focus is on the food line,” senior Joe Rivard said. “That says something.”
“It was so hot outside, I felt like I was burning,” freshman Claire Dermond said.
The event lasted from noon until 6 p.m., and ran out of food by 5 p.m.
Reiling said he had planned on 3,500 students attending and 2,500 taking advantage of the free food.
“I couldn’t be happier with the event,” he said. “The only thing I can say is that I wish we had ordered more food.”