Soul man? MJ-infused smooth criminal? Hip hop prodigy? Raury just might be all these of things. In a little under a year, this 19-year-old maverick has gone from an unknown Atlanta idealist – who built his fan base through impromptu performances outside other artists’ concert venues – to the next young rapper tipped for stardom. Fourth in the BBC Sound of 2015 list and recently chosen for US hip hop mag XXL’s 2015 Freshman Class, he’s earned himself the kind of attention that will make some suspicious, or sceptical even, of his abilities. Still, live on stage at the Village Underground, London, this self-proclaimed saviour did everything in his power to turn any doubters into believers.
The night was only his second ever UK show, and already he’s attracting manic devotion from his early followers. Sure, that’s not uncommon. But what was different was the energy Raury gave back. He arrives on stage like some benevolent prophet, making straight for the mic, his ruffed, off-white shirt hanging loosely from his wiry, bare-chested frame. He jives, thrusts and drags his mic stand about the stage in a manner that James Brown would have approved of in just the space of opener War (Part One). Sun hat tipped, obscuring his face under the bright lights, he hunkers down to slap hands with audience members, before he hollers into his mic and strikes a pose.
Raury’s showmanship just keeps on going from there. On the funkified Superfly, he encourages the audience to hug whoever was next them and they dutifully did so, making this easily the biggest public display of affection we’ve come across at a hip hop show this, and perhaps any, year. He turns the cavernous venue into a tribal party, all hand-claps and chants, during the veracious Devil’s Whisper. And breaking out his acoustic guitar for the contemplative Cigarette Song, he showed streaks of folk-rock, albeit with plenty of Atlanta chic, in his unorthodox serenade.
The outpouring of enthusiasm from both performer and public is rapturous. A lot has been made of Raury’s belief in a higher purpose for his music, and himself. You’d be forgiven for taking that as hot-air on first impressions. Sure, he talks the talk, as plenty of rappers do. But bringing out up-and-coming UK grime empress, Little Simz, for a surprise guest song is certainly one way of showing he means what he says. With Simz shooting sixteens at the speed of electric shocks, the crowd proceeds to royally “lose [their] shit”, and Raury leaps into the front row to join in.
Simz left the audience buzzing for more, which Raury delivers. Performing an as-yet-unreleased song, which he says is about “what it’s like to be me right now”, Raury mused about the desperate and the dispossessed, the malnourished and misinformed, juxtaposing this with our hype-fast, mediated world. The dizzying stream of lyrics he delivered were charged with the kind of passion and psychotic-sounding inflections that we’ve come to hear from Kendrick Lamar.
Raury wants to be a world changer. Before his final song, the anthemic God’s Whisper, he proclaimed: “I hope you came to have a good time… to make new friends. And I hope you came to be revolutionised in the mind”. What he shares with Lamar is a desire to say something meaningful with his music, to challenge conventions, even if it’s not always clear in the manner he goes about it. After all, on stage Raury is no mere rapper: he’s a guitar-playing combo of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and André 3000 from one angle, a moshing Earl Sweatshirt the next, and an idealistic Kid Cudi further on.
Yet none of those comparisons do justice to the energy he generated by the end of his set. Raury’s guitarist and keyboardist were fully absorbed in turning the encore into a show-stopper as they hammer out power chords on their knees. Raury stage-dives into a bed of hands. And he and his bandmates drench the chanting punters – practically disciples at this point – with arcs of water. Seeing so many smiling, elated faces, there’s only one conclusion you can come to: on stage, Raury is a force of nature.