This week, it's hip-hop non-stop, y'all, with a couple shows that run the full spectrum of rap.
Swamburger's auspicious Advanced Listening had a great November debut with DJ Abilities and Blueprint. Now, the familial and true-hearted hip-hop culture event makes good on its promise of blossoming into a series with its sophomore edition (Jan. 12, the Social).
The national headliner this time was Abstract Rude, yet another artist from the mighty Rhymesayers syndicate to be featured on the series. Like pretty much that label's entire roster, the L.A. MC is in perfect step with Advanced Listening's orientation toward the enlightened, roots-minded side of hip-hop. Even with some thin backing sonics, his rich, sonorous voice was chiseled with technique and articulation. This ain't no Lil Yachty shit here.
The homegrown openers repped respectably. Electronic pioneer and Solillaquists of Sound main brain Divinci delivered a typically inspired solo performance. Masked producer Imakemadbeats played a spacious and dramatic set. The promise and relevance I saw back in 2015 in young rap troupe Table for Three are still there in bright potential state, but they need to stop blaring the mic and stepping all over each other. As with all ensembles, the more crowded it gets in the mix, the tighter your choreography needs to be.
In terms of sheer pulse and vigor, however, upward rapper-singer E-Turn – an artist we recently named as one of Orlando's top acts right now – stole the show. In fact, her momentum kept on rolling into the morning after when she was featured on Matthew Peddie's radio show, Intersection (on WMFE 90.7), which has been on fire lately with its local music spotlights – E-Turn last week and avant-garde composer-percussionist Thad Anderson the week before.
As for Advanced Listening, this live intersection of top national indie-rap names and the rising cream of Orlando talent is something of 360-degree benefit and one of the best things to sprout up on the local hip-hop scene in a while. Only great things can come if we keep this train rolling.
But the far more sensationalist affair was Riff Raff (Jan. 13, Backbooth). While the feature acts of Advanced Listening are forged in craft and credibility, this Houston rapper has ascended on a Technicolor cloud of celebrity and flash. A freaky hip-hop peacock strutting between alternative and comedic, he's shamelessly campy and looks about as subtle as Mike Busey (RIP, Sausage Castle). One thing he isn't, though, is a half-stepper. And under all that hood glitter is a true character with strange appeal, even if some of it's a little cynical. I legit liked his previous album, Neon Icon. Regardless, you don't miss an opportunity to see a persona this big and caricatured live.
There is a legitimate artistic case for Riff Raff, though. Unlike other MCs who chest-thump in attempts to self-certify their cred, the Peach Panther takes the sometimes ridiculous braggadocio of rap and rides it like a Pegasus, rocketing into the stratosphere with humor, swag and even some true weirdness. This degree of swashbuckling flamboyance is a kind of performance art in itself. Whether he's more personality than artist is a valid question. But the answer matters less and less when the totality is this maximum and entertaining.
He may not have the deepest game out there but dude's got skills. Besides, no one here came to see a craftsman, and splitting technical hairs misses the point of the Riff Raff phenomenon – you don't go to a WWE event with UFC expectations. And regarding that signature charisma and warped wit of his, it was all up in the house. Lowbrow probably, but high times certainly – he brought the show and lit up downtown with more neon than Miami Vice. Earlier that day, the walking cartoon himself even showed some surprisingly genuine humanity by doing a donation drive for local animal shelter Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. Cain't hate on that Ruff Ruff.
While we're talking hip-hop, this month remains crammed with even more A-listers to come, like Run the Jewels (Jan. 23) and Atmosphere (Jan. 26), both at the Beacham. Amen.