Yoni Wolf Worked the Hip Hop and Indie Rock Divide at Rubber Gloves

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Yoni Wolf With Serengetti, Topic Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, Denton Wednesday, June 11, 2014

By H. Drew Blackburn

We're gonna go ahead and break the fourth wall right off the bat here: I had a roommate who was into Why? He didn't listen to rap music. If he did, it was Aesop Rock or something like that. Or so he said. I never actually heard him listen to anything that resembled rap music.

I figure the 200 hundred or so people at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios last night for Yoni Wolf's show were in the same boat. Wolf is predominantly known as the frontman and brainchild behind Why?, a band that fuses genres, taking indie rock, rap and general quirkiness into account in order to craft a sound that is generally unique in the grand scheme of music.

Why? mostly leans indie rock, but rap is a large part of their music. Even when Wolf is rapping and singing melodically, you can hear the hip-hop influence bubbling beneath the surface and itching to escape.

It broke free for his solo tour, a purely hip-hop endeavor. Wolf moseyed about Rubber Gloves' stage wearing a pair of large glasses and a fading cutoff t-shirt with Mickey Mouse's oh-so-recognizable face and "California" written beneath it. His rapping seems incredibly comfortable for him and a tiny bit awkward for you. His mannerisms are a bit off, his cadence is a little forced. He looks like a kid in his bedroom, staring in the mirror, rapping along to his favorite rap tracks.

The most accurate example was "Broken Chow," from his latest project, Old Dope (Rap Tape). The song borrows the menacing beat from Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones" and supplants his own particular style of reflective, referential, and partly goofy lyricism.

Wolf's records that don't borrow from canonical rap songs are a bit disjointed, a play on conventional beat and rhyming structures. "HAHAHAHA" is a short burst of lethargic drums and Wolf's raps are equally as languid. His opener, "Paper Hearts," a Why? record, follows the same strain.

The most interesting thing about Wolf is how he can play off the differing sensibilities of hip hop and indie rock, and in particular the audiences of both. His style, we'll call it Whole Foods Rap, is kind of relatable, but the signifier of being an indie rock frontman helps foster and cultivate an audience. Wolf's raps aren't about the things you don't have, but rather about things that we might feel, or just about putting words together for the absolute hell of stream of consciousness.

If there ever was a laid back rapper with an utter disregard for conventional rhythmic tendencies it would be Serengeti, Wolf's Anticon label mate and opener. I overheard somebody jokingly refer to him as MF Doom at the merch table.

Wolf and Serengeti together formed an enigmatic force that garnered what is maybe the most eclectic crowd you might ever come across at a show in Denton, Texas. They're also hosts to the the only rap show that I, and most likely you, have ever been to in which the DJ plays Radiohead songs between sets. There was Migos, of course, but there was also Radiohead.

Who knows whose choice it was to play those records, but it's calmly the most telling tale of the night. A little bit of this and that -- an admixture of indie rock and hip-hop. It gets the people going.

The Crowd: Incredibly into it for the entire night and packed like non perishable goods. Overheard in the Crowd: "They call it that for a reason; SNATCH!" Critic's Notebook: The stand out may have been the opener, -topic. He's pretty seasoned, and performs at pretty much every rap thing in DFW (or Dustin Cavazos). However, -topic brought a level of energy to the show that that wasn't matched by Serengeti or Yoni Wolf.

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