A concert without music

Simple Stupid Records’ free show last week was in service of the algorithm, not their artists or fans.

Yhapojj and friends performing in LES Skatepark, 12/18/23. Photo by Millan Verma, edit by Tyler Farmer.

It had been four hours since the show was slated to begin, and I still hadn’t heard a single song. I had, however, watched a group of ravenous cyborgs in shiesty masks and parachute pants smash the venue’s airport-grade metal detector into a dozen pieces; a screaming man standing in a trashcan get knocked off the curb and punched in the face after collapsing; and some people use that same trashcan to break glass bottles in the middle of the street that–to the crowd’s evident surprise–launched shards at all nearby, cutting one passerby on the cheek. I had witnessed a spritely young gentleman climb three stories up a flimsy fire escape ladder above the venue, disappointing the mob by not freefalling off of it onto the cold hard sidewalk. I had stopped for a beer, I had walked two miles against a cutting wind, I had waited beside a cargo van under the Manhattan bridge on this particularly murky night, until finally, Chief Keef’s “War” cackled through a PA. It cut out after 40 seconds. 

The pedestrians walking by the Mercury Lounge in the Lower East Side that evening all wondered: Who are all of these kids here for? Before delving into that I need to make one thing clear: This could have been a show for a piece of corduroy felt tied to a stick. The riot outside the venue, which caused security to lock the doors from the inside, was not caused by an underground rapper or any form of music. It was caused by a raw, pent-up energy; not anger, not even angst, but a collective desire for something to happen. 

There were many opportunities for a full fledged fight to break out. A real brawl. And that would have been beautiful. It’s the best example of adrenaline-addled damn-the-consequences delinquency I can think of. But each time one was on the cusp of happening, hundreds of phones shot up in the air, and the spat died down as quickly as it began. All of this wonderful energy was directed senselessly into the ether. There was no meaning behind any of it. Merely an urge to transmit a crazy experience across cyberspace. Had a gun been pulled, a shot fired, an innocent person hit and wounded, would the instinct be to run, to assist, or to record?

Hundreds of fans outside Mercury Lounge waiting to get into a free Yhapojj concert. Photo by Millan Verma.

The show was for Yhapojj, a rising rapper from Huntsville, Alabama. Supporting artists included NYC’s xaviersobased, 15-year-old Nettspend, and British rapper Phreshboyswag. They make clap-heavy, cybernetic rap music with transformative lyrics such as “She wanna suck my dick / I let her suck my dick.” Simple Stupid Records, a subsidiary of Geffen and Interscope that Yhapojj is signed to, scheduled the free show on a Monday night at the Mercury Lounge, which has a max capacity of 250. The press was flooded with invites, and once it was announced that the most popular artist in the scene, xaviersobased, would be there, flier reshares spread rapidly over Instagram. Our Generation Music erroneously misreported that 2,000 people were waiting outside. I’d call it a healthy 350-400. Regardless, many people who went out of their way to go to this concert were not allowed in. Slowly but surely, mayhem broke loose, causing security and those in the venue to lock themselves inside until things calmed down. It took about an hour, with three separate visits from the cops and an announcement that the show was canceled, to get the crowd to disperse. 

While the chaos was unfolding, I stood on an elevated median for a better vantage point. As the full-body metal detector was dragged from the venue to the street for eventual destruction via WWE moves, I took a video:

I sent it to our No Bells group chat and we discussed: Should we post this? Is it potentially incriminating? Before we could decide, Yhapojj posted it on his Instagram story. Then it was reposted onto No Jumper, RapTV, and other popular hip-hop pages. Apparently someone in our group chat sent it to someone else, who sent it to someone else, and just like that it was viewed by millions.

From the label’s perspective, it was clear: The riot outside was better than the show ever could have been. They considered it a huge success, and were dead set on creating “a moment” out of it. The content would be unbelievable. The added lore to Yhapo’s name would be worth far more than the hefty damages owed to the venue. Whether his music was ever heard by fans and spectators was not a concern. 

After the police cleared the area, a new location was announced: LES Skatepark under the Manhattan bridge. Maybe a hundred or two migrated over. They attempted to have the artists stand on a car and perform from a shoddy PA that kept cutting out. That car was deemed no good so they moved them atop a cargo van after convincing its nervous driver to comply. The artists climbed on top, and after more difficulties with the PA, “Hurt My Feelings” by Yhapojj finally played. Then “1o” (good song). Maybe five minutes later, after it had become apparent that the kids in the street were blocking traffic, cops came and shut it down. 

Concert over. What a night. Time to go home. Maybe eight total minutes of music were played, but at least something had happened. It didn’t matter what–just something. All songs end, but dozens of blurry videos are bound to last a lifetime.

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