Riff Raff Takes Over NYC's Highline Ballroom: Live Review
Riff Raff revolves around a gravitational pool of eccentricity. It's made up of many components: his social media accounts, tattoos (including the logos of MTV and BET), stacks of racks, a wardrobe composed of the finest neon apparel, his music videos and Diplo. And regardless of his ubiquity the guy continues to be a mystery to everyone he appeals to, treading a thin, Versace-made line between performance art irony and meme-based entertainment.
Riff Raff's show at NYC's Highline Ballroom last night (July 20) was a four hour spectacle of excited teenagers, and a rapper that is very much in a league of his own. The night's festivities began with New York-based rappers Lakutis and Heems. The former is less refined than the latter, dropping half-baked lines that are immediately entertaining but hardly memorable. When Lakutis appeared onstage it was as if he were a part of the audience. Shirtless and projecting a guttural roar into his microphone, the crowd didn't know whether to be excited or frightened. And it only got weirder from there. Lakutis can rap but it's as if he chooses not to. Unlike Riff Raff, Lakutis' unusual persona doesn't make up for his mediocre raps. (Which is unfortunate because most of the production for the guy's music is enjoyable.)
Shortly after Lakutis finished, Heems came onstage. Heems is not only refined in his lyrical wit but in his onstage persona. The guy knows how to please an audience (which is to be expected considering his time in rap group Das Racist), energizing the crowd with typical live hip-hop show antics (waving of the hands, call-and-response). Lakutis would occasionally join Heems onstage and fellow rapper Mayhem Lauren made a guest appearance as well. But Heems followed in suit with the show's weirdness, ending his set with a cover of The-Dream's "Rockin' That Shit." (What was most weird about this moment was how the crowd reacted: by moshing.)
Next up was Riff Raff, whose set didn't begin until around 10:40 pm EST. Honestly, Riff Raff's DJ played a longer set than he did. But that didn't matter; unannounced, with no arsenal of air horns or introduction, Riff Raff came onstage and began his performance. The crowd jumped wildly as Riff Raff and two hype men began rapping. Teenage girls did the Kreayshawn-arm-cross-into-invisible-pull-up-bar-dance, while teenage boys moshed and did the Lil B cooking dance. Some members of the audience even crowd surfed. For the first half of his set, Riff Raff didn't talk much. He did his remix of Grimes' "Genesis," "Jose Canseco," "They Figured I Worked For Mexico" and "Rap Game Sleepless in Seattle." He then briefly took time to address his Versace necklace, which Justin Bieber apparently gave to him, and added that he and Justin collaborated on a song together. (True? False? Hopefully true. Bieber, Riff Raff and Drake were spotted backstage at Bieber's Toronto show.)
Riff Raff continued on with his set. The rapper surprised the crowd when he brought out Action Bronson to do "Bird On A Wire." Bronson was received with applause and cheers, dropping his verses quickly before exiting offstage. The show went on: girls climbed onstage and attempted to (very poorly) twerk for Riff Raff's approval. But he didn't seem to care; after taking a moment to speak with his DJ and some guy that served as his onstage bodyguard, Riff Raff left the stage. No goodbyes. No thank you's. Nothing. And it couldn't have ended any better.
Sometimes you have to embrace the weird. You can attempt to decipher and understand it, but sometimes doing such takes all of the fun out of the process. Of course, we'll always have questions for Riff Raff: if his persona is just an ongoing act, who is he really. But for the time being Riff Raff only has an answer for the following: how to throw a memorable and wildly entertaining show.