Hype is a tumultuous bitch-wave. Some surf it to success, others become drowned in its insurmountable peaks. And young music prodigies get it the worst. There is nothing that quite makes the world cream itself like a musician who is shit hot and still can't legally rent a car. The younger the bettter to be honest. If a baby was born tomorrow that could croon like Frank and smack out beats on a Roland TR-808, I reckon we would have forced him/her into creative isolation in the Hebrides by time they were 24 months.
Young Raury, from Atlanta, drops straight into this unstable category. The kid has been writing songs since he was three (one was named "the little fishy song"), and now, at the age of 18, he’s released his debut album. This year alone he's crashed Childish Gambino gigs, chilled with Kanye, played with Outkast and embraced his fans with impulsive midnight meetings in parks and birthday parties that become full on gigs.
In the UK, his debut album, Indigo Child, dropped while his splash in America was still rippling our way. But, last week, Raury landed on British shores, ready to amplify his debut record: a window into dreamy young life, evoked through acoustic R&B, bleached indie, casual beats and us-against-the-world rap bursts.
On the day of his first ever headline London show, we decided to crash Raury’s soundcheck, talk to the man himself, watch him play live, and generally determine: is he worth the hype?
First time I started following Raury on Twitter, I remember him posting about how it felt like the whole world was calling his name, yet he was trapped in school. Finally, he feels free to get back to them: "Graduating from high school was my highlight of the year, because I got out of there," he explains over the drummer's soundcheck. "A couple of months ago, I would need to raise my hand just to go piss. Now I can go to New Zealand if I really want to. I've played America, Canada and the UK. Next, I might go to Paris… When I go to Paris, you might see me tweeting in French. I think of myself as a universal artist, so I have to be accessible to everyone in a way. When I’m in a different country, I want to switch up to their language."
To be a star, you need to have star quality. Aside from being able to gyrate asexually, star quality can be determined by your ability to switch between speaking with a shy and humble tone in an interview and impulsively voguing for passing photographers. Raury has star quality.
"I’m very pleased people can hear my album now. This is my story, and every project and every song is a peephole into my life and what is going on in my mind. I write from experience. I write from things that happen to me. Indigo Child was that era of me as a high school underdog, someone who was looked down upon: a rebel. So, imagine how this next project will sound? Just imagine how Raury sounds once he has made some success and proven himself somewhat, and he knows he has a lot more to prove. It’s going to be crazy" proffers an excited Raury, occasionally referring to himself in the third person - another tell tale sign of, well let's give him the benefit of the doubt and call it star quality.
Raury seems totally unfazed by the idea of his first London show, and tells me that during soundcheck he tries to conserve his energy and save the dynamism for when the curtains open. During soundcheck: he did karate kicks, repeatedly lept from the stage like a cat, and slow danced with a big white wooden block usually used for resting drinks.
There are a few ways in which your hype can slam back in your face. For instance, if you're the fresh-faced puppet for some sort of grammy-winning songwriting team, then shit might get real when they aren't around. Raury wrote the entirety of his debut album, and produced over 70% of it. He wants to be a kid that talks to kids, and as the venue fills to capacity, I'm pleased for him to see that amongst London's usual late-twenties, non-dancing screen gazers, there is also a bunch of genuinely young looking kids, seemingly psyched for the UK arrival of the self-titled Indigo Child.
"The way I’m doing it is 'look at me, I’m here, you can do it too.' I want peers of mine to realise how normal a person I am. I’m a human. Nothing crazy or special or out of the blue. This all came from a hard-headed kid who stuck to it and didn’t give a fuck what nobody else thought. That is what "God’s Whisper" is about. And "Superfly" is about chasing your dreams, no matter how many people tell you that your plan A should be your plan B. I want to tell that to my fans, so they can say that due to Raury’s Indigo Child or anything else I drop in the future I chased my dreams and I got it."
His performance is actually quite throwback for a young kid, interspersing unexpected moments of totally theatrical glam rock - both visually and aurally - with wanderlust American indie and fiercer bursts of high speed rap-rock. His stage presence - simultaneously androgynous, playful and totally anarchic - makes him look like a tearaway Prince channeling Kiss unmasked.
Things cooled down a bit for "Cigarette Song" which is hands down the best song he has written. In the fading cacophony, and adolescent fling vibes of this track, you get a good feel for his voice, and he nails it head on. However, that theatrical glam vibe got the better of him, and he killed the mood with a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". I heard him do it in the soundcheck and had hoped it was just for a vocal warm up.
If I wasn't convinced by his talent that Raury is worth the hype, than I'm convinced by his quite hilarious, tunnel vision of self-belief. Deciding he had the crowd pretty nailed down, he decided to take a breather and started handing out signed vinyl copies of his album to "cute people on the front row." At first, it seemed adorable and funny, then after five minutes it felt awkward, and after about ten minutes - with Raury still signing records - I think it became funny again.
The rest of his set resumed what he's good at: his own shit. Maybe I was being oversensitive to the Queen cover, because the crowd fucking carried him around at the end. What a showman!
My conclusion? Raury isn't just worth the hype, he transcends it. It won't overawe him, because he's already pretty convinced that he will be one of the most important artists in the world. In fact, I get the impression that he regards hype as quite beneath him. God-like adoration would be much more preferred. Tonight, he was a diamond, but defintely one in the rough. And his stage presence and song choices sometimes resembled a puppy chasing toilet roll down the stairs. But: he can sing live, he can write damn good songs, he’s got more self-belief than the titanic had coal, and anything he lacks, can be learned. Is it the beginning of a very big story? "I can promise you that it is, because I am not going anywhere. I am a very humble person, and I don’t want to say anything I don’t mean, but I am here everybody."
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