Thursday, December 29
Better than: A Republican debate.
Chris Webby has “203” inked across his right side, a gothic “Connecticut” burned into the skin beneath his neck. There are the scattered images of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mario Brothers and Transformers among his tattoos; a search online suggests Simba exists on his leg, but I didn’t check. Some tattooist put a coupling of eighth notes a few inches above his hip. He is suburban, aggressively so; the voice of parking lot angst, the face of middle-middle-class rage. When he tosses an unopened water bottle down at the floor, he scowls: “Motherfucker!”
Outside of the traditional hip-hop blogs, far away from radio, his is a bubbling movement, a frathouse contagion. Over more than two years on the way to six mixtapes—his latest, There Goes the Neighborhood, reached the top of iTunes’ hip-hop chart—Chris Webby has racked up some 70,000 followers on Twitter, 150,000 fans on Facebook and 20 million YouTube plays. (He still does not have a Wikipedia page.) This is not to say that he isn’t looking for mainstream appeal: at this very moment, he’s staging a campaign to get his face onto the cover of XXL‘s next Freshman issue.
To boil his success down to race is easy, if unfair to everyone. White kids like seeing one of their own onstage, and so stages are being overrun: Mac Miller had crowds milling outside of Best Buy Theatre in Times Square, having already opened at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. Hoodie Allen just did two sold-out dates at SOB’s; Seattle’s Macklemore packed Bowery Ballroom earlier this month; dozens more are on the way. Critics loathe it; high school hallways echo with its sounds. Checkboxes are being crossed at every point as the Internet and real world collapse in on themselves, meaningless adjectives for MySpace genre classifications. We’re living in a world where Cam’ron is working with Mac Miller and hopping on Rihanna Euro-house remixes. Justin Bieber has a song with Busta Rhymes. Lil Wayne is unfortunately still trying to play guitar, and is being played on pop radio for his efforts. Kid Cudi is still being put up on Rap Radar, even though he hasn’t made rap songs in over a year. What is anything anymore? Is any of this less hip-hop than anything else? The answer is no, but it’s still complicated.
Someone in the audience last night felt that Chris Webby and other white rappers were a good thing for hip-hop, that his songs were the sound of racial barriers being torn down, which is an overstatement (and, well, incorrect). Because, while it’s nice that hip-hop is no longer only safe for black men and Eminem to perform, last night’s audience was made up almost exclusively of white males. I spotted three non-white people who did not work at Irving Plaza; a security guard pretended to pat me down while laughing out loud. It was the first time in New York City I had ever heard anyone shout out, “Where Connecticut at?”
Standing before an eager audience, decked in a wife beater and fitted hat, Chris Webby is relatively animated—there were a couple of times during the night where he did Drake’s swoop-and-pull just as well as Drake himself. His voice scratches the insides of his nostrils; he sounds like Bill Simmons yelling out the side of his mouth. Between “motherfuckers,” there are references to Reptar, Krabby Patties, Fern Gully and other cartoon characters; Adderall and weed earn devotional odes, name-checks for ‘raging’ and ‘getting weird’ get big reactions. A girl nearby clutches her chest, singing along to “Until I Die.” Webby points out “That’s what she said!” about something or other, and breaks to laugh to himself; one sentence later, he says, “Pull whatever you’ve got out and smoke it,” missing the opportunity for a second, better TWSS. He says “Holy shit tits!” and “If you only knew how sweaty my balls were…” He is definitely 23 years old.
There was something curious, though. In the middle of the concert—after his father comes out to lay down “All Along the Watchtower”-type riffs over La Roux’s “Bulletproof,” but before DJ Semi cuts over live drums and it starts to feel like Limp Bizkit jambalaya—he goes on an extended harangue about how he doesn’t make music for suits. He says he’s all about his fans and the art, and—though he’ll never change—a deal is approaching. As the lights come up, a thousand kids chant “Web-by, Web-by” over and over. In two days, it’ll be 2012. Critics wait, afraid.
Critical bias: I knew a million Chris Webbys in high school, and I was in a class of 200.
Random notebook dump: Even while his audience may not be hip-hop fans in toto, a cursory check of Webby’s Twitter reveals that he follows—among porn stars and the Bro Bible—Just Blaze, Alchemist, Killa Kyleon and Mic Geronimo. He’s clearly been affected by hip-hop, even if his music doesn’t reflect these influences.