The king of Nett York

KPR reports back from a feverish Nettspend show at the Knitting Factory.

Nettspend performing at the Knitting Factory. Photo submitted anonymously. Edit by Srikar Poruri.

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A man onstage gestured his hands outward and the crowd parted like the Red Sea. The mass of teens hopped up and down, grabbing each other’s shoulders in anticipation. Suddenly, a door in the back flung open and everyone screamed. A little wave of shiny blond hair appeared, ushered to the front by an entourage. Fans waved their phones around like a mob of old Hollywood paparazzi with flashbulbs. Instagram influencers, music journalists, and kiddies awake past their bedtime were all gathered to witness Nettspend, one of the most polarizing new cult phenoms in rap.

The 17-year-old is like Justin Bieber if he grew up addicted to SoundCloud and mewing. He’s only been dropping tracks for a year and a half, but he’s already being called the future of music, with a wild fanbase and equally rabid hate-base to boot. Any Nettspend song comment section will have someone calling him a “corny ass Matt Ox 2.0 born in 2019” and another saying “best thing to ever caress my ears.” The music is hypercluttered, packed with bass thuds and synths that gallop like deranged horses. He litters tracks with gibberish noises (“Waaaah,” “yoooo”) and surreal ad-libs that have become fan-catchphrases (“slut truck”). His best track to date might be “shine n peace,” a perfect 90 second jolt of giddy joy, where he pumps up his buddies and shouts out tall girls over a gleeful, glimmering beat.

Nettspend’s rise has been fascinating and frustrating. While a lot of the music is thrilling, it feels like a pristine, somewhat empty version of the twitchy jerk music pioneered by artists like his collaborator xaviersobased. There’s not much to Nettspend beyond his ear for elegantly chaotic beats and windswept flow; he doesn’t write addictive hooks or express his thoughts in an especially memorable way. Some of the hype is clearly a result of the tensions that got him internet traction—the “Nettspend defenders” wanting him to succeed despite the throng of detractors baffled as to why this almost Gen Alpha-aged white teen is rapping about loving lean and Ibiza. This night felt like a litmus test: Does his internet aura translate to real-life charisma?

The concert took place at the Knitting Factory’s new location in the East Village. It was trippy for me because I grew up only a few blocks away, on Ave A and 4th St, when the space had been the iconic Pyramid Club. I walked past my old apartment building, gazing fondly up at my childhood window, then immediately entered a dark den of stench, shirtless white boys, and unbelievably bass-cracked music. I could tell this was a fried crowd when, during the pre-show DJ set, the audience’s response to Playboi Carti’s “Sky” was hilariously sedate. No one gave a fuck about some washed-up 2020 rage synths.

When Nettspend hit the stage, the energy was instantly electric. He tore through the convulsive “We not like you,” trying to rap along but more often just making delirious groans while the fans shrieked every lyric. The twinkly banger “2024 Freestyle” set the room even more alight. This was one of the most feverish audiences I’d ever seen. People behaved like they were at an anarchic art auction, screaming at him to play songs to the point where it was almost excruciating, a blitz of verbal vomit: “shine n peace!” “wake up!” “40!” A slew of fans didn’t seem to know the name/hook of the unreleased Deftones-sampling “i just wanna get high,” so they just hollered DEFTONES! PLAY DEFTONES! as if they were at a completely different concert.

Nettspend performing “nothing like uuu.” Photo submitted anonymously.

Everything reached a fever pitch at the final song. Nett climbed on a security guard’s shoulders, his small frame hanging over the guy like backpacking gear, and stood inside the juddering crowd. “I’m trying to be with y’all, I’m nothing like them,” he declared to rapturous cheers. The gothic lasers of “nothing like uuu” soared over the room and sent everyone into a mad mosh. Nettspend grabbed a water pipe on the ceiling, hanging off so it looked like it would pop. At the end, he howled a huge guttural SLUT TRUUUUUUCK and collapsed backwards into the crowd, falling on a bed of phones and welcoming arms like a rockstar in a movie.

On the way out, attendees spoke like they’d just seen the messiah. One boy excitedly told his friend that he was planning to flip the NYC-exclusive Nettspend t-shirt for $200, because it would soon be mega-rare. “That was freaking awesome, dude,” another guy exclaimed to a homie. Outside, Nett hopped in a car and stood on the edge of the door while fans congregated around awkwardly, waiting to see if he’d perform more, like a repeat of the turbulent Mercury Lounge show he did with YhapoJJ and xaviersobased that ended in chaos (he didn’t). 

While I came in with doubts, Nettspend clearly had enough raw swag to make at least 100 kids devote a Monday night to going absolutely ballistic. But the show was definitely carried by the crowd’s blind adoration of him. The Nettspend hype feels sort of like a facade, like it’s running on a feedback loop of its own excitement—diehards championing him because he’s someone with a relatively fresh aesthetic to champion, every generation deserves an idol, etc. Still, there were glimmers of him really being a superstar: the way he’d rap eyes closed up into the sky like he was giving himself over to the performance, the gleefully devious smiles he’d flash at the crowd, the desperate speed with which people exited the venue to have a chance at meeting him. Maybe the unhinged fervor he’s inspired will endure.

Fans eagerly recording Nettspend outside the Knitting Factory after his show. Photo by Minh Tran.