Nav’s Knack for Collaboration and Connection

Arts Reporter Sofia Hrycyszyn covers Nav’s glorious return to Chicago for his Never:Sleep Tour.


Sofia Hrycyszyn

To his fans’ delight, NAV fills up the stage and room at the Aragon.

By Sofia Hrycyszyn, Arts Reporter

On February 15, the second night of Nav’s Never:Sleep Tour, Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom echoed with hip-hop and rap beats from a range of artists that complimented the main act. Punjabi-Canadian rapper Nav is notable for the range of collaborations in his songs, which feature The Weeknd, Don Toliver, and Travis Scott, among others. With an interplay between DJs and rappers throughout the show, the different expressions of hip-hop evident in Nav’s recorded work played out on stage. As artists and DJs stepped in and out of the spotlight, the atmosphere at the Aragon shifted and evolved, steadily building throughout the course of the night. 

To start, RealestK warmed up the audience with his mesmerizing voice and mellow rap ballads. The 18-year-old from Toronto rose to fame with his 2021 single “WFM,” whose title references the repeated plea to “wait for me.” The song’s opening bass line samples the chorus of Bruno Mars’ “Talking to the Moon.” By overlaying the heavy bass with melodic howling, the song takes on a more unsettling expression of longing and love which contrasts the upbeat pop associated with Bruno Mars. RealestK’s music features hypnotic beats overlaid with soothing vocals which is markedly different from Nav’s high-energy rap, but served to prepare the steadily growing crowd, who swayed gently to the beat, itching for more.

Up next was SoFaygo, another young rapper, whose stage presence riled up the audience. His breakthrough single “Knock Knock” went viral on TikTok in 2020 and he has a distinct pull with younger fans, who made up most of the crowd. From the start of his performance, SoFaygo was high-energy, jumping back and forth, but taking moments to settle at the edge of the stage and lean over the audience. As he did so, they pressed up against the barricades in a way that had the security guards on their toes; the energy in the Aragon was rising.

Opener SoFaygo basks in the audience’s energy. (Sofia Hrycyszyn)

With SoFaygo’s energy still ringing through the crowd, Nav stepped onstage to cheers. He was dressed in loose-fitting black pants and a jacket, wearing his signature sunglasses despite the comically dim lighting. He opened strong with the namesake of his tour: “Never Sleep,” a high energy rap song which he recorded with Lil Baby and Travis Scott. The song features slightly different styles and sounds as the artists take turns rapping, but it has a repeated underlying riff that offers a unifying element as the rappers build off each other. Nav rode the energy in the room, performing hits “To My Grave” and “Baby,” the concert’s light show complementing such high-energy beats and lyrics. He made strong use of the Aragon’s large stage, taking ownership of the stage and the room through his constant movement.

NAV dominates the stage at a packed Aragon Ballroom. (Sofia Hrycyszyn)

Nav’s lyrics reflect a lot of pride in his Punjabi heritage, and he took a moment to connect with part of his fan base by giving a “shoutout to all the brown boys in the room.” The crowd responded with cheers, the excitement in the room spiking in time for one of Nav’s biggest hits, “Wanted You.” The song is more lowkey than his previous tracks but still featured a catchy, easy-to-dance-to beat. Shifting the focus mostly to his 2022 album Demons Protected by Angels, Nav followed “Wanted You” with “One Time,” which features Don Toliver’s ethereal vocals and Future’s auto-tuned rap, giving the song a softer vibe than many of Nav’s individual works.

He performed another couple of hits from his new album— “Last of the Mohicans” and “Demons in My Cup”—before hyping up the crowd by asking for his “day one” fans to give a shout. Creating a more intimate connection with the audience, Nav knelt by the edge of the stage, responding to an audience member by saying “I heard y’all. I love you too.” Nav had repeatedly remarked that he hadn’t been on tour in over four years, and that he particularly missed Chicago for the energy and support. As thanks, he exited the stage, reappearing in the pit where he was engulfed by the audience and their cheers. A halo of cell phone flashlights surrounded him as everyone reached out to him. With the audience swarming around him, Nav performed “No Debate” and “Baguettes in the Face.” By repeatedly talking directly to his fans and joining them in the crowd, Nav completely won over his audience.  

After climbing back on stage, he brought out RealestK, for their joint song “Lost Me.” Their voices overlapped as they passed each other on stage, each taking the emotions of the other and communicating it in a slightly different way, RealestK through his airy vocals and Nav through his sharp rap. After dapping up RealestK, Nav focused back on the audience, saying that Chicago was always there for him, and remarking that “through all the hard times, y’all always hold me down,” before smoothly transitioning into a fan favorite, “Held Me Down,” a heavily auto-tuned song with a slow, consistent beat produced by Metro Boomin. 

As the end of the concert neared, Nav gave the audience what they had been looking forward to all night, hitting them with back-to-back favorites. The opening notes of “Champion,” featuring Travis Scott, initiated cheers from the audience. The song has a rhythmic beat and catchy lyrics that the audience all knew by heart. Closing the night with “Lemonade,” a hypnotic collaboration between several artists, Nav left a hit ringing in the audience’s ears as he confidently stepped off stage. Shouts for an encore resounded through the Ballroom, and Nav responded with one of his most popular songs, “Turks.” For the final piece, Nav resumed his dynamic movements and excited rapping. The audience mirrored his energy, dancing in time to the deep, resounding bass and clinging onto the last moments of the show.