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Monday, July 2, 2012

Riff Raff takes Chicago

Posted by on 07.02.12 at 04:12 PM

Riff Raff, aka Jody Highroller, aka Versace Python
  • Riff Raff, aka Jody Highroller, aka Versace Python
From what I could tell, the question on the minds of the few dozen people who turned up at Subterranean last night to catch the first Chicago appearance by Internet-famous rapper Riff Raff was, "Is Riff Raff actually going to show up?" Speculation about headliners bailing is common at hip-hop shows, but this time there was a bit more contributing to the situation than general rapper flakiness. For one, the show was already running late and less than machine tight—apparently some of the scheduled openers hadn't shown up, and the "DJ" backing up the string of mediocre frat rappers below Riff Raff on the bill sat onstage playing beats out of iTunes and dicking around with his phone. (At one point he took a call midsong.) When the show's organizers and hosts got onstage to provide live hype-man duties for the recorded version of Chief Keef's "I Don't Like," it seemed intended as much to buy time as to pander to the Chicago audience. (Note to DJs: While Chicago appreciates the implied shout-out when you play "I Don't Like," we like it even better when you play the original and not the overcooked Kanye remix.)

Add to that the fact that Riff Raff has carefully cultivated a reputation for reckless eccentricity and unpredictability that keeps his fans on their toes. He has a number of alternate personas that he adopts in the YouTube videos he makes and during interviews, including Jody Highroller, who has a British (or more accurately "British-ish") accent. Over the weekend he released a long-awaited official mix tape, Summer of Surf, without telling anyone beforehand. He has large, conspicuously placed tattoos of the logos of rap websites and Viacom-owned media properties. And his lyrics, while vivid and projecting a sense of luxury, almost never make any literal sense. (A representative line, from his exuberant freestyle over Jay and Kanye's "Otis": "I used to turn boys to girls / Now I pull up in the bowling-bowl swirl / I'm on bowling lanes.") And by midnight Sunday he hadn't even shown up at Subterranean, much less come out onstage.

But he did make the show. For as much as Riff Raff seems intent to carve out for himself a lane called "the white Kool Keith," he doesn't seem to have inherited Keith's superhuman disregard for practical stuff like showing up for concerts he's contracted to play. It was a short set, but that's fine. Even as fascinating a person as Riff Raff has a hard time keeping rapping along to MP3s interesting for long, and even more than the music what people were there for was to witness and absorb some of his radiant, charismatic weirdness. While the goofy tattoos and fake accents are what brings eyes and ears Riff Raff's way, he's building a devoted fan base through complete, unwavering dedication to his superstar status, despite the almost complete lack of mainstream attention. (He seems to have learned a few things from the cult of Andrew W.K.)

It's like Riff Raff (whose stint on a reality show is maybe the least of the reasons why so many have a hard time taking him seriously) believes so hard that he's a famous rapper that a career as a famous rapper has materialized around him. He's even got a deal with Diplo's Mad Decent label. While some of his fans no doubt appreciate him ironically, for those of us who are serious about it, the situation feels like inhabiting someone else's feverish MTV-fueled fantasy—a world that's much more fun than the one everyone else is in.

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Hank Williams: Lost Highway Greenhouse Theater Center
July 25
Performing Arts
First Look Repertory Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Merle Reskin Garage Theatre
July 31

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