Neon-laced Texan trill was the theme of the night at Cowboys Dancehall in Arlington, where RiFF RaFF served as ringleader for a live set featuring Texas hip-hop legends, glow-in-the-dark twerking ballerinas and hundreds of entranced pre-spring breakers. It just might have been the greatest show on Earth, and it happened to double as a tribute to Texas hip-hop's new wave.
Considering the endless amount of space within the Texas-sized venue, the fog-filled floor became a three-ring circus with spontaneous dubstep battles, real-life dancing pandas, synchronized laser shows, and lots and lots of sweat flinging.
After a few streaming hours of the Trapzillas mixing EDM, hip-hop and surprisingly, Dominican bachata, "Riff Raff was in the motha fuckin' house!" The Houston native hit the stage over an hour after his expected performance time, but who really expects him to follow the laws of time? He's known for being the larger-than-life character who lives the life of a modern day hip-hop Zack Morris. He's been referred to as polarizing, bipolar, Vanilla Ice the sequel and as a calculated intellectual. But when he brought his neon party to the stage, Texas pride took the spotlight.
The show launched with an introduction by Swishahouse Records co-founder and DJ for the night, OG Ron C. This first appearance was an indicator that this would not be the show that the crowd of lightsaber-wielding ravers was expecting.
As soon as his introduction wrapped up, Riff Raff flew from backstage, waving a white towel like a helicopter as he debuted new tracks from his soon-to-be-released album, Neon Icon. His high-pitched, new-wave flow pierced through usually overpowering bass and trap claps as the crowd screamed nonstop for about two songs straight. Visually, the rapper played the part of his eccentric personality, wearing a neon pizza tank and zebra print Versace pants.
"Turn them damn bright lights off and turn them black lights on," Raff demanded in a thick Texas drawl. "If you from Texas like me, best believe we gon' glow in this bitch tonight."
Standing center stage with his "Hook 'em Horns" held high above two neon ballerinas having an onstage dance battle, he took a moment of unexpected calm to reminisce on his days as a seventh grader bumping Swishahouse music.
Following the brief trip down Raff's slowed and throwed origins, he shocked the crowd by bringing out Dallas' own chart topper, Dorrough, to join in on the Texas pride. Performing quick snippets of previous hits and premiering a new track featuring Wiz Khalifa, Dorrough's slowed-down lyrical delivery kept up just fine with the lively crowd. Before leaving the stage, he wished everybody a good night and shook hands with the eccentric colleague who brought him out on stage.
"I know y'all wasn't expecting me to be coming through Texas and not have surprises," Raff joked from the higher level of the stage. "You know I always say back then they didn't' want me."
By then the crowd knew what was coming. He couldn't even finish before he was drowned out by the screams of "MIKE JONES, MIKE JONES." And there he was joining his fellow Houston native for a medley of his Swishahouse hits including "Still Tippin" and "Back Then."
"281-330-8004," the college crowd roared in unison with the new-wave Houston legend on stage. "Hit Mike Jones up on the low, cuz Mike Jones about to blow!" Jones has lost a lot of weight in the last few years. He's become some type of blacked-out hybrid backpacker, but he still hasn't skipped a beat when it comes to keeping the crowd interaction.
As he finished his last rap, Jones made sure everyone knew his connection to Riff Raff was authentic. "I'm glad I could come out and represent Texas in this bitch with my nigga Dorrough and my nigga Riff Raff," he says saluting across the stage to Riff Raff's diamond encrusted smile. "This is Texas, and it ain't nothin' but love for Texas." The two rappers shook hands and hugged before Mike faded to the black.
With the remaining 10 minutes of his set, Riff Raff took the crowd to a more expected area and reminded them they were still in some strange, glowing Mecca. The synchronized laser show returned along with a recurring whiff of blown-out birthday candles as Raff hopscotched across the stages, lower level rapping the first two singles from new album. For his final song, "Dolce & Gabana," the crowd became a tidal wave of bobbing phone screens as everyone attempted to record and not miss a beat of the near mythological whirlwind.
Riff Raff left the stage without fanfare, simply saying "Hologram night, we outta here!" He disappeared into the stage's orchestrated mix of dancing mascots, Tinker Bell twerkers, and kaleidoscopic strobe lights.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
For a few moments the crowd was full of confused faces, making sense of what had just happened during the 45-minute live set. Did Riff Raff really just perform only songs from his new album knowing close to no one would know the lyrics? Did he really transition his performance from EDM rave to legendary trip down memory lane with Dorrough and Mike Jones? Did he really just leave the stage without the expected "thank you for coming out, go buy my new album" spiel? But then a new beat dropped, and everyone gave up trying to make sense of the show as dubstep battles reignited wall-to-wall in Cowboys Dancehall.
Forever one of hip-hop's elusive characters, constantly being questioned for authenticity, on this night, Riff Raff gave his rave-centric crowd what they wanted, what they didn't know they wanted, what they forgot they wanted, and what they'll want more of in the future. He performed alongside other Texan rappers that paved the way for a new wave of MCs. He let everyone enter his neon realm of black-lit paradoxes for just about as long as his portal would allow. And he left the crowd with many new one-liners like "Diamonds dancin' on my wrist like they Miley Cyrus." Ladies and gentlemen, hailing from Houston, Texas, the rap-game Harry Houdini, Riff Raff.