Riff Raff comes to the Blue Moose Tap House to get weird

Riff Raff

Blue Moose Tap House — Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Riff Raff, a rapper who represents the avant-garde of white-boy rap or the greatest punchline that genre has ever produced (or maybe both), performs at the Blue Moose Tap House on Thursday, Dec 4.

Riff Raff — known also as Jody Highroller, Kokayne Dawkins, and the White Gucci Mane — isn’t easy to make sense of, and that’s no doubt a big part of his allure. As inviting as it is to assume that the cartoonish grill-flashing, cornrow tousling, elaborately tattooed (complete with MTV and BET logos) rapper is a joke (a potentially racist one), it’s not so easy to write him off as just that. Some, in fact, would go so far as to herald him as one of the most talented of the rising tide of internet-bred rappers. The truth is probably somewhere in that murky in-between. Riff Raff is a genuine enigma.

Although he achieved fame primarily by projecting his over-top persona through reality TV appearances, social media and a slew of Youtube videos, you would be wrong to assume
that music is just window-dressing for the Riff Raff package. Riff Raff can rap — when he wants to — and, at his best, his rhymes reveal depth, albeit in an onion-like fashion where peeling back the layers still leaves you confused as fuck.

His pop culture obsessed rhymes are strings of non-sequiturs derived from free association so strange that it borders on surrealism. Consider a few lyrics of his song “How to be the Man” (video above):

“Might hit the club and it’s the white Danny Glover
Rap game Uncle Ben pulling rice out the oven
Now I’m Julius Caesar in the Versace wife beater”

Although Riff Raff is primarily a musical artist he works best in a visual medium. It’s no mistake that nearly every Riff Raff song is accompanied by a YouTube video filled with outrageous fashion choices and surreal imagery. The videos are what launched Riff Raff’s career, and it’s hard to imagine that he would be in the position he is in without them.

Riff Raff released his first proper album, Neon Icon, this year on Mad Decent. The album, produced by Diplo, the record label’s head, is a perplexing document. While Diplo’s involvement might have hinted that the album would have a heavy EDM influence, the songs are probably the most conventional-sounding that Riff Raff has ever appeared on. The songs are fairly wide ranging and show Riff Raff experimenting with new styles. There’s even something that appears to be a country song, an experiment that perhaps should not have been attempted at all.

Some of Riff Raff’s weirdness does appear to have been reigned in, likely in a bid to expose him to a wider audience, but the album is by no means free of his trademark wackiness. At one point he proclaims that he can “freestyle to a dolphin and a tambourine” over a beat that actually includes a dolphin and a tambourine. However much he may be craving mainstream success, it is clear that he is unwilling to completely sacrifice his weirdness, a move that is probably wise as that is what made him compelling in the first place.

Riff Raff
Riff Raff is still pretty fucking weird. — Video still from “How to be a Man”

To deny that there is much that is problematic about Riff Raff’s public persona would be disingenuous. There is certainly a hint of minstrelsy whenever a white rapper appears to be taking on the persona of black person and Riff Raff is definitely walking a thin line with his look, particularly with his grill-and-cornrows combo. Many have made the comparison with Vanilla Ice (whose influence Riff Raff has acknowledged) and he probably should make us uncomfortable.

This is partially because it is not always clear how serious Riff Raff is being. In his early career many accused him of being some sort of internet joke designed to make fun of Southern hip-hop, doing little more than wearing the costume of a Houston rapper. The past few years seem to have affirmed that Riff Raff is serious about his rapping, though not more than a little irresponsible in his appropriation of hip-hop culture.

Recently, Riff Raff has attempted to distance himself from this controversy, stating, “I never claimed to be a gangster rapper or a hip-hop artist. I think that’s where people get confused and question my style, which they have never seen. The reality is that I’m the first and only EDM rapper to ever exist. I’m not a cross over artist, I wasn’t a pop artist at first or in a gang, and I was never in a group, I’m the first and only EDM rapper of all time.”

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