Live: The Internet Shows Off Its “Weird-Ass Music” At Bowery Ballroom


The Interet w/Kilo Kish, Phony Ppl
Bowery Ballroom
Sunday, August 5

Better than: Staying home to wait for Drake’s posthumous Aaliyah collaboration.

The MTA and its agenda of mediocrity made me late for last night’s Kilo Kish/The Internet show at Bowery Ballroom, but as I walked into the main space, Kish had wrapped up a song standing spritely on the stage and with an enormous grin said, “That song was about my ex-boyfriend. Fuck that dude.” And with a sheepish giggle, she followed up with, “Fuck. That. Dude.” It was a perfect moment: Her music is soft and sweet, but punctuated with heartbreak vitriol. The set concluded shortly after that and I felt like I had missed something big (seriously, smash the MTA). Kilo isn’t packing powerful stage moves, but her energy is ethereal made me think she could guide me into a shimmering hip hop forest. (People on the Internet really need to stop using “Rap Game [Insert a Witty Reference]”—but if there had to be one for Kilo Kish, it’d be Rap Game Woods Fairy.) Women in hip-hop have been excellent at rewriting the tough-as-nails vs. sexpot narrative this year, and Kish is a prime example that a woman can use tenderness in her music while still expressing genuine (meaning, sometimes ugly) emotion. It electrified a very small crowd.

The crowd, in fact, was the smallest I have ever seen for any permutation of the Odd Future collective. I was there when Tyler, the Creator and Co. made their NYC debut to a mosh-pit-cum-critic-circle with no room to breathe; I saw panties tossed on stage to Frank Ocean last November, weeks after having watched the entire crew (sans Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt) stage-dove onto costumed Miami teenagers on Halloween. The most remarkable member that night was Syd tha Kyd, who stood behind the DJ booth, hyping the crowd up with Jay-Z hits and fist-pumping to each of her brothers’ songs. How would that kind of behind-the-scenes zeal translate to her role as lead singer of R&B group The Internet?

The five-piece band, which includes OF member Matt Martians and Tay Walker (who sings on the Purple Naked Ladies’ “They Say”), opened the set with Justin Timberlake’s twinkling “Senorita.” Syd shyly only offered the first verse, ending with “I know I’m not Justin, but fuck it, I’ll try” and the band appropriately sauntered into “She DGAF,” the crowd pumping middle fingers in the air at each chorus—a strange gesture for the kind of fluid soul music The Internet makes, but the show was, after all, Odd Future-affiliated.

The majority of The Internet’s output is about girls: “This is a song about clingy girls”; “this is a song about a girl I used to be in love with.” It’s hard to listen to her sing so many gendered songs and not wonder if the Frank Ocean Independence Day hullabaloo ever crosses her mind when she’s singing about women. The Internet’s album received sparse public attention and critical accolades, but its use of the pronouns “she” was similarly revolutionary to Frank Ocean’s use of “he” on Channel Orange. Ocean might be leading the charge in open sexuality in hip-hop, but Syd was the first member of Odd Future to do it. Both R&B-leaning members have songs about the same sex, which is remarkable for one hip-hop collective, let alone a group that has been roundly criticized for violent and homophobic lyrics that, really, most rappers espouse. Even some of the most acclaimed rappers of all time have buoyed their lyrics with the most tasteless utterances (child rape on Biggie’s “What’s Beef?”; spreading AIDS on Big L’s “All Black”), yet Odd Future’s otherness (their DIY approach) and seemingly immediate accolades probably influenced the heavy judgment. But it may be the most LGBT-friendly hip-hop crew with a prominent place in the discussion.

Syd functions in a similar way as Odd Future’s firebrand leader Tyler, The Creator. Both express fervent messages about their inner demons, but instead of “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school” Syd’s radicalness stems from writing matter-of-fact lyrics about romantic despair. It makes The Internet and Kilo Kish a perfect match; when Kish joined them on stage to perform “Ode to a Dream,” their low-key composure felt empowering. Syd and Kish are both conduits of power who proved you can pack a punch without hitting someone over the head.

The highlights of the night were “Cocaine” and Williams’ solo performance of “Karma.” Syd’s comfort was most apparent for the former; she trounced back and forth on stage (she had stayed front and center for the majority of the show). When it came time for the verse from Left Brain, who was absent, she invited the crowd to step in. They were potent and she built off their energy. Williams’ piece was by far the night’s most traditional song; every time he ventured into falsetto territory, a sea of shrieks pierced the crowd, even though most were unfamiliar with the material.

Closing up the set, the band performed “The Garden,” the last track on Purple Naked Ladies. Syd cooed, “I don’t know about you, but I’m coming down now” over and over. The song may be a lean rumination at the end of one’s high, but it felt more like a meditation at the end of a successful show for a band who were playing for the first time in New York to their own exceeded expectations. Before walking off the stage, Martians said, “Thanks for liking our weird-ass music.” It was fitting, coming as it did from one of the less considered members of a crew that’s reshaping the hip-hop and R&B landscape.

Critical bias: I’m an Odd Future early adopter and while a lot of other writers lost the thread after Tyler, The Creator’s debut Goblin, I have (very enthusiastically) maintained interest.

Overheard: “Do you guys mind if we smoke some reefer?” Are people really bringing back “reefer”?

Random notebook dump: Guy in red shirt doing ecstatic, disjointed dance moves with no rhythm, but I’m happy he’s having a good time. Feel bad for the girls behind him laughing, because they are obviously not. I wonder if they know that.

Set list:
Ode to a Dream (with Kilo Kish)
Love Song
Karma (performed by Tay Williams)
Web of Me
Live it Up
The Garden