Eccentric Texas rapper Riff Raff (aka Jody HighRoller, aka “the white Oprah”) hit up Montreal last Thursday on the last stop of his Canadian “Riff Raff Raves” tour, parading his flashy white-boy flamboyance all over the stage at the Cabaret Underworld.
Riff is one of those viral personalities people love to hate — we can expect nothing less from a rapper who had his introduction to fame on an MTV reality show, and who claims James Franco stole his likeness for the character Alien in Spring Breakers and wanted to sue for a righteous $10-million.
No one’s quite sure if he’s a joke or not, with his ridiculous grills, shoddy tattoos and pencil-thin facial hair that belongs in the Hunger Games movies. (Gage his irony to earnestness ratio in Cult MTL‘s interview with him here.) But a whole mob of Montrealers turned out to his show to see what the deal was with this century’s Vanilla Ice.
Well-known Montreal beatmaker and unique character in his own right Tommy Kruise came on around 11:30 p.m., and after a brief introduction about his love for this city, immediately spun up the slow-motion beats and looped splices of his trapstep stylings. And that was the last we heard of him until the end of his set.
Most musicians break between songs, maybe swig some water, try to elicit some cheers from the crowd. Not Tommy Kruise — dude was like a long-haired swaying enigma behind his turntables and laptop screens onstage, and didn’t halt the beat once for over an hour. He played a few tracks off Memphis Confidential Vol. I, but most of it sounded like his own live reinterpretations of other rap tracks, remixed and pressed through his trapstep sieve into a more dramatic, heavy BPM.
The rises and falls of Tommy Kruise’s trap are fun to groove to — for a while. As 1 a.m. drew nearer, the crowd grew restless, and eventually chanted “Riff Raff, Riff Raff” over Tommy’s beats. A storm of dancers consumed the stage around this point, to which Tommy responded, “I love you Montreal, but you gotta get off the stage, Riff Raff is coming,” repeated ad nauseam. The torrent of dancers slowly descended back into the crowd.
At 1:15 a.m., the crowd knew Riff Raff was somewhere in the building, and the rubberneckers were swivelling their heads like owls tweaking out. A Riff Raff-esque intro came on and the fire exit door in the back burst open, revealing a steady stream of blinged-out dudes — the entourage. In the middle of the line was a bugged-out Jody HighRoller himself with not one but two microphones in his hands, like some Darth Maul shit, rapping and singing. He was rocking what looked like Versace sunglasses, fire-engine red skinny jeans and a sleeveless white vest. He vaulted onto the stage and assaulted our ears and dignity with his Southern drawl screaming into both microphones at once. Holding them both up to his mouth was a suggestive image, to say the least.
His opener was “Air Canada,” his tribute to this great country, and as much a lesson in Canadian geography as it is a rap song. What was interesting is that the song itself — not just the beat, but Riff’s own voice — was pumped through the Underworld’s speakers. It seemed like Riff didn’t have to rap at all during his performance, and he was sure to take advantage of that. Most of his time on stage was spent yelling “WHAAAAT” (triggering Lil’ Jon flashbacks) and screaming that Montreal was in fact in the building.
Riff switched songs like a kid with ADD flips channels: after one verse and one chorus, it would switch up to another track, with only a handful played out until the end. Granted, a lot of the tracks he played were collaborations, such as his hit “Bird on a Wire” with Action Bronson, and it would be pointless to play other rappers’ songs at your own show. So bite-size portions it was.
Riff’s entourage left much to be desired. Most annoying was a white dude flailing around with Riff Raff shirts and other merch on stage, trying to pull off a cowboy hat. The only thing more out of place would have been a lasso, or maybe a turban. The guy took the mic a few times and seemed way too eager to be in the spotlight: I thought maybe he was a random friend of Riff’s that was brought along from Texas, but I overheard that the strange fella was actually Riff’s brother.
Riff graced us with a song off his upcoming debut album Neon Icon, with a chorus that somehow featured the line “my lady in Afghanistan.” Another notable moment was the song “Instagram,” when he commanded his followers to pull out their phones and Instagram the blinding image of his Holiness onstage, like a rap game Jesus Christ.
After less than an hour, the “white Danny Glover” left the same way he came, without even a closing remark. He just fled the stage with his entourage through the fire exit door, rapping the whole way, presumably departing to go kick off his afterparty.
While Riff Raff is a comical caricature on the Internet and an amusing entertainer, his void of musical talent in exchange for shiny Versace chains made his show an overall lackluster experience. I can still hear that grating “WHAAAAT” in a Southern screech bouncing around in my skull. ■