I'm unable to decouple Riff Raff, the rapper, from the character of "Alien," as played by James Franco in Harmony Korine's 2012 film Spring Breakers. This is not an uncommon thing, as even Riff Raff himself is insistent that the character is not just inspired by him, but is him, to the point of using first-person pronouns when talking about the character in the movie and making apparently unsubstantiated threats in the past about planning to sue some party or another involved with the film for millions of dollars for unattributed use of his likeness.
However, this toyed with my expectations a bit in seeing him live for the first time at Club Red in Mesa Friday night. It wasn't as if I expected seeing him would lead me down the path of YOLO-culture and crime as his alleged cinematic portrayal suggests he might, but that whole episode in general, with him essentially claiming to be the sole proprietor of a certain brand of post-everything tastelessness, dressed in neon and transmitted through goofy Vine clips, made me expect a performer who would be very assertive about his identity.
Instead, I witnessed a pretty straightforward rap set. The energy was good, and it was still pretty goofy in the sense that Riff Raff's neon get-up was glowing in the dark (this setup meant no flash photography), but I wasn't expecting a headliner whose reputation greatly precedes him to perform with the kind of no-nonsense approach more fitting of an opener trying to prove themselves, going track after track with no filler in between.
When I told my roommate about this, he responded that "sometimes rappers just want to be rappers," and I think this may have been the case for the night's performance as well as Riff Raff's career right now. He's at the point where he is gaining a tangible sense of legitimacy rather than just being a funny media personality. Probably the biggest example of this is his mention in the "thank you" section on the latest Drake mix tape, but it's also worth considering that his most recent album, Neon Icon, features appearances by Childish Gambino, an underrated if still prominent tastemaker in contemporary hip-hop, as well as Slim Thug, a performer who has infinite currency in the Houston rap scene and is well established on the national level. All these connections are a step up from having Andy Milonakis in your crew.
My favorite Riff Raff Vine (probably many people's favorite) involves him telling the world that he plans to "blow up, and then act like I don't know nobody," and I feel like this applies to former iterations of himself. While I don't think he's completely leaving the old Riff Raff behind (he is still rapping about Versace sleeping bags and Prada pocket protectors and stuff), I got the vibe that the older Riff Raff, the one publicly trolling critically acclaimed directors and actors two years ago, was being subdued by one who is associating with critically acclaimed hip-hop artists and is trying to focus more on craft than the peripheral adventures of a middle-tier celebrity. It's interesting and indicative of growth; I'm just hoping for more Versace stage banter next time.
Everyone's a critic: I was watching from the back and immediately behind me were two people dressed as uncharacteristically as I was having a conversation deconstructing the entire event in general. I wondered how many people in the room were needlessly over-intellectualizing a Riff Raff concert like I was. My guess is anywhere from 20 percent to 100 percent of the audience.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.