On Tour: Riff Raff

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Riff Raff played a set at the Regency Ballroom on Sunday night where everything went so wrong that it felt so right. The so-bad-it’s-good shit show that was Riff Raff’s show was so absurd, I have to wonder whether or not it was strategically orchestrated.

Riff Raff’s aesthetic is over-the-top decadence complete with giant cutouts of heads — including Katy Perry’s. If she is bubblegum pop, then he is bubblegum rap. Clips of a dancing Napoleon Dynamite, cartoons and the rapper’s own music videos projected onto giant booths while silhouetted dancers gyrated behind the screens. The strobe lights flashed in such a way that the jumping bros in tanks and do-rags looked like a slow-motion party scene from “Spring Breakers” — a movie for which Riff Raff can claim partial inspiration for James Franco’s Alien. His set included fan favorites such as “How To Be The Man,” “Tiptoeing in My Jordans” and “The Illest.”

If you’ve ever seen Riff Raff freestyle, you get the sense that the syntactical structure of his verse is just an ad-lib of stream-of-consciousness word vomit generated by every kitschy pop culture reference that comes into his multichromatic be-cornrowed head. Unlike his joint-wielding hype man, his lyrics have no substance. Instead, he goes toe-to-toe with his rhymes — literally, as he raps, “X these haters out like tic-tac-toe, Deion sandals on my toe.” Like most of his songs, the majority of “Deion Sandals” is composed of a monotonous hook — which might explain how accessible his lyrics were to the ever-chanting audience.

But it’s not like Riff Raff was freestyling at the show — in fact, he hardly even rapped over his own recorded voice. Throughout half the set, he repeatedly walked offstage mid-verse and let his hype man — who wore a pink cowboy hat to match Riff Raff’s Texan drawl — pick up the slack of recitation. Instead of channeling Iceberg Simpson, the rapper was more of an Ashlee. During “Instagram,” he periodically paused to flex for his hype-bro-turned-paparazzo — a metaphor for how much his viral presence overshadowed his performance.

Lil Debbie, an Oakland-based collaborator, abruptly appeared for “Suckas ASKiN QUESTiONS.” Instead of spitting verses, she threw glow sticks at the crowd and called out the DJ, who accidentally stopped the track mid-song. Then she bounced.

But that wasn’t the most surreal part of the night. Riff Raff took the culture of self-promotion in hip hop to another level when he closed his set by walking to the merch table in the middle of “Dolce and Gabbana.” While the beats kept playing, he initiated a meet-and-greet with the fans who weren’t perplexedly awaiting his reappearance onstage.

Riff Raff is more of a marketer than a musician. Despite the show’s drawbacks, attendees bought into his brand. Two fights broke out over the course of the night — one provoked by T-shirt swag thrown into the crowd. Perhaps this is a sign of Riff Raff’s simultaneous genius and idiocy.

Contact Caitlin Kelley at [email protected].