Going dumb proves smart in RL Grime’s latest performance

RL Grime

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“Playing Golden State in Oakland was a moment,” RL Grime tweeted right after his set at the Fox Theater last Friday. Indeed, lots of songs and moments happened during the show, with a surprising — albeit very well-received — amount of Bay Area hyphy rap mixed into his set. RL Grime bounced through verses of hits from E-40, Keak da Sneak, Mac Dre and more. Viral remixes and tracks from his debut album were accompanied by a fury of blasting light beams from the stage.

The large crowd did not need much egging on. Montreal DJ Tommy Kruise opened first to an eager and boisterous audience. Known for working with experimental hip-hop, he released a free EP in October to much fan adoration. Meanwhile, Lunice — who was on campus for ASUC SUPERB’s second show last semester — fed his usual hypeman-meets-professional-dancer frenzy with his signature trap. He also ended with some now-classics from a previous collaboration with Hudson Mohawke, allowing the duo to reclaim their stagename TNGHT.

One of RL Grime’s most popular songs is a remix of a TNGHT production — one of their few, as they only released one EP. His edit of their song “Acrylics” further incorporates the bizarre combination of deep shoulder-popping trap beats, methed-out synths and naptime baby toys.

Grime, at 23 years old, has made a name for himself with hip-hop oriented mixtures, naming 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” as an influence, sound-wise. But don’t get it twisted. He isn’t just sampling the radio hits for cheap plays.

Mixed among his reworks of Chief Keef or Rae Sremmurd are more subtle throwback references, like Janet Jackson’s chipmunkified voice in “Always,” which has recently been featured in a UNICEF PSA about child marriage in Chad. Meanwhile, “Core” features the “Who do the shit that I do” vocal sample from Trick Daddy’s 1998 song with Trina, “Nann Nigga,” along with a beat from electronic group The Prodigy’s 1997 song, “Climbatize.”

“Core” is one of the many singles by RL Grime that seems like it always needs a British radio announcer’s voice interluding, saying how massive it is. Though he only played a short bit of “Core,” others of the same destroying breed such as “Love Sosa,” and especially his encore with “Tell Me” — made with What So Not — became instant crowd-pleasers.

When asked what he has learned from touring worldwide, RL Grime mentioned his developing skills in adapting to various crowds. Maybe what’s most interesting about Grime: Not only can he play at the confetti-littered clubs in Vegas, but he can also produce some turn-down music rather than just giving the crowd their so-called “bangers.” Grime is not a one trick pony.

His “turn-down” influences surprise with names like Four Tet, and he features Tom Krell from the music group How to Dress Well in “Reminder” on his latest album. The song is a sharpened moody R&B croon, with the theme of his album title, “Void,” becoming clear as one listens through other tracks.

In an interview with Hunger TV, Grime noted that the concept behind his first album was actually quite visual and based on the “mystic of the deep sea … and the dark and obscure connotations that can come from it. We wanted the album to feel like everything on it comes from the deepest and darkest place on earth, beyond any human or life form existence.”

His dystopic album manifests these themes with intimidating deep synths and bass such as on the single “Scylla,” but at times the tracks from his new album during the concert lost their individuality. As with all musicians, there is a dissonance between the performer and the creator. Ultimately, RL Grime’s new album was no predictor of his show last Friday. It’s not really clear whether his audience is a bunch of techno heads or high schoolers who like to bump songs featuring sirens and twerk on each other. There was definitely a mix of those crowds and more at the Fox, but overall, it was the hyphy angle that united them all.

Contact A.J. Kiyoizumi at [email protected].