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Monday, Oct. 22, 2012

Waka Flocka Flame @ The Rave

Oct. 20, 2012

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For a shouting, gun-toting lunatic, Waka Flocka Flame sure is charismatic. Flocka is rap’s answer to Andrew W.K., an animated life coach with a butter-melting smile who advocates better living through doing whatever it is you love, regardless of how reckless whatever you love might be. And like W.K., there’s a lot of softness under his rough edges. Flocka may live his life almost exclusively for the sound of gunfire, but there’s no particular malice driving that trigger lust; he just loves guns for the sake of guns. If that sounds ridiculous, well, entire political parties have been organized around more or less the same principle.

The sheer, cacophonous extremes of Flocka’s sound might have made him a streets-only proposition, had it not been for one unabashed pop single that put the rapper’s party-starting drill-sergeant routine to work on the dance floor. “No Hands,” from his otherwise uncompromising 2010 album Flockaveli, became his crossover moment, a success that sophomore album Triple F Life: Fans, Friends & Family bends itself into knots trying to recreate. Where Flockaveli was an organic gangsta rap record with one coincidental hit on it, Triple F Life was crafted in the cynical Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded mold, a hedge-betting album split between the extremes of snarled rap and glistening Top 40 pop, blind to any middle ground between the two.

If there were any doubt which side of that bridge Flocka would rather live on, the rapper made it clear Saturday night at the Rave. Flanked by a DJ, a couple of hype men and a drummer who contributed more volume than rhythm, Flocka demolished his own pop songs. The night’s version of “No Hands” could be charitably called “deconstructed,” though really it was just shambolic, its glossy beat stripped away in favor of a downpour of free-form drums and grunting. The slinking, understated strip-club beat of “Round of Applause” was replaced by a similarly brute, rap-rock grind. Every song was saturated with air sirens and gun sounds, especially the rowdy deep cuts from his Salute Me or Shoot Me and Lebron Flocka James mixtape series, of which there were plenty.

At nearly 90 minutes, his performance was needlessly long, so there were inevitable lulls where Flocka was dialed a notch or two below his usual 10—and really, Flocka’s act only works when he’s turned all the way up. But when he was on, he was a sight to behold: a head-banging, dreadlocked mass of id, driving the crowd into a frenzy and loving every second of it. He delighted in the souvenirs he collected throughout the night, too. When a bra landed on stage, he marveled at its size before tossing it to his drummer—who briefly used it as a drumstick, then hung it triumphantly over his kit—and when a fan tossed him a studded chain that almost certainly couldn’t have been real, Flocka extolled it as if it had actual value. “I’m going to keep this,” he beamed, with the irrational enthusiasm that defines everything he does.