Tuesday, August 16
Better than: Waiting in line outside of the frathouse bathroom.
When I was in college, people would party to music by Lil’ Jon. (Yes, I’m old.) They said his catchphrases, as learned through Dave Chappelle DVDs. (Like I said: old.) They danced to his songs, doing that thing where four people in a row start grinding together while facing one another, because they didn’t really know how to dance. That being said, none of these people would ever go to a Lil’ Jon concert. That would be a step too far.
In 2008, Asher Roth was the Ponce De Leon of frat rap. He wasn’t the first white MC, not by a long shot; he wasn’t even the first white rapper in khakis, socks and sandals. That being said, he was (or more accurately, his manager Scooter Braun was) the first to successfully and completely exploit the territory. College kids had long seen their friends ‘freestyle’ in super-lyrical fashion—saying nothing but rhyming things—while circling up in the quad or the frathouse basement, drawing inspiration from Okayplayer rappers and lite beer. Nothing much came of those cyphers of word-vomit (and actual vomit) until Asher Roth got onstage and said, in effect, “I am one of you.”
Three years later, the floodgates have burst open. Last March, Sam Adams ambushed the top spot on iTunes—so out-of-nowhere that people accused him of buying his way to number one. Mac Miller has 750k followers on Twitter and has turned down major-label money, opting to get it on his own. YouTube holds videos by Cam Meekins, Chris Webby, Videogum punching-bag Chet Haze and countless others. It’s inspired trend pieces and at least one omen of grave portent.
Sure, it’s suburban van music, but the rise of Frat Rap doesn’t portend the decline of Black Rap. To begin with, the people listening to these artists are not Black Rap fans. These are pop-punk fans who have gone unfulfilled in the past few years, as the Warped Tour faucets have slowed to a drip. New Found Glory or Blink-182 are of another generation; kids now listen to Mac Miller and Hoodie Allen for bouncy pop-driven melodies and ‘snarky’ lyrics revolving around teenage angst, parties and girls.
It’s a fast-growing movement. Last year, I saw Hoodie Allen perform for an intimate (and wary) audience of 15 or so in a back room of a Williamsburg bar. Last week, a music video of his (and YouTuber Ray William Johnson’s) premiered, racking up 500,000 views by the end of the day. Last night, he stood onstage in Webster Hall’s large room as 1200 people chanted “Hoodie! Hoodie!” before, during and after his set. Even more couldn’t get in, due to a strict policy that let in only those who could prove they were older than 16. Girls screamed, slurring at the security guards, insistent. “Rough night?” I asked the doorman. He put his hand to his head and pointed at a college-aged boy who was crying while holding onto the velvet rope, failing at bribing a guard with a red Loehmann’s gift card (which the guard had knocked to the ground).
The lucky more-than-few who gained entry screamed his words, which was good, since the sound at Webster Hall seemed swallowed. (This could also be due to the fact that Hoodie holds his microphone like an asthma inhaler, which is good for photos if not for ears.) When he raps, his eyebrow arches upward, his lip curls, as if he were about to tell a joke. He’s an active performer, walking this way and that, running and jumping and skipping and dusting the air with his fingers. He sweat through his tee that had a buffalo steer on it.
Hoodie is easily and endlessly approachable, as new-school Internet rappers seem to be. (Little distinction can be made between the man on stage and the man in the audience.) He offered up, “If I had longer arms, I’d high-five all of you,” as swarms of fans reached in his direction. He responds to just about every message on Twitter, a word or two making for conversation, forging a friendship with every avatar he can. (Some of his banter seemed directed to fans on his social networks: “I know a lot of you couldn’t make it, because of the shitty bouncers.”) Even the stage was packed, with IRL friends and hangers-on. Not-so-separated from the masses to his sides were two women, superfluously posing in shimmery bikinis, who danced as if plugged into the wall.
Many of the songs last night faded into one another—easy-going pace, easy-going emotions—but there were a couple of standouts: “Moon Bounce,” which has flashes of grit and moments of feeling; the absurdly catchy “You Are Not A Robot,” samples Marina & The Diamonds’ weirdo arthouse hit of almost the same name—a change in pronoun.
The crowd enjoyed it, even though some may consider it Teddy Graham hip-hop. A guy standing next to me, wearing a scarf and short sleeves by the bar, laughed hysterically when Hoodie localized his lyrics to say, “Webster Hall got #whitegirlproblems.”
Hoodie Allen kept repeating—on stage, on Facebook, on Twitter—that this was the most special night of his life.It’s not too much of a stretch to think that more are on the way.
Critical bias: I talk to Hoodie—or Steve, as I know him—every so often on GChat.
Overheard: “If everyone in here were five years younger, this would be a bar mitzvah.” “No joke: I went to sleepaway camp with his manager.”
Random notebook dump: It’s very funny to go to a rap show (and yes, this was a rap show) where there are so few black people. As mood music, Webster Hall pumped in dubstep. “That’s how you know white people are around,” said an artist’s manager, curious in seeing Hoodie perform. The electro-static was broken by one Waka Flocka song, “Hard in the Paint,” which went mostly ignored. One of the black guys danced; a group of co-eds bent their fingers into gang signs, giggling. A muscled-up bro mouthed words, some of them seemingly to a different song.
Song for an Actress
Can’t Hold Me Down (with Tayyib Ali)
Every Time You Go
Words of Wisdom
Soul on Fire
Swimming with Sharks
The Chase Is On
You Are Not A Robot