“Est-ce que vous respectez Gucci Mane!?!”
I think he’s asking if the crowd respects Guwop? Of course, DJ Weedim speaks in French, so I can’t understand a single word he’s saying. Yet, the songs in his opening set are exclusively American: Anthems by A$AP Mob, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, Migos and more earn emphatic reactions from Paris locals, equal participants in the culture.
The opening set of a rap concert is always a uniquely fraternal gathering, with excited fans reacting in unison to hit songs they have obviously been waiting to hear on proper speakers for some time. But on Sunday, February 26, the crowd at La Maroquinerie is particularly ecstatic, because Lil Yachty — the infamously red-haired crooner, who has found remarkable success as a part of hip-hop’s new wave — is sailing through the Old World, preparing to play his first concert in Paris, France. The energy in the venue is almost overbearing.
In preparation for Yachty’s performance, DJ Weedim is only playing tracks that are associated (either in form or spirit) with the Atlanta-raised artist’s unconventional, niche realm of hip-hop, and the French concertgoers clearly approve, their excitement vividly manifesting itself in wild mosh pits. More than once, I watch as a fan removes himself from the standing pit to take a break from the raucous crowd, only to hear the first few notes of DJ Weedim’s next selection, defenseless against his own instinct to turn up!
Wow, what a scene! The room is aged primarily between 16 and 26 years old and, naturally, many bodies are marked by notorious streetwear brands like Supreme and A Bathing Ape. Paris! Fashion!
As I anxiously await the arrival of Young Boat, I cannot help but notice some curious stares being shot in my direction by foreign hypebeasts who mistakenly believe that I might actually be somebody. It is so fascinating how — no matter where one is in this grand, vast world — simply wearing a Supreme cap and holding onto an entry-level DLSR camera can seem to signal some amateur level of importance to those in a certain subcultural crowd. What is more fascinating, however, is that such a crowd exists even in Paris, France, the alleged home to high culture itself.
Some time around 21:30, Lil Yachty steps onto the venue’s small cement stage wearing bright red sweatpants and a crewneck sweatshirt the same shade, both of which are carefully matched to his signature braids. Though La Maroquinerie is much smaller than many of the North American festivals and arenas where he has played in recent months, all of the fans present have come out solely to see him, and the crowd is completely captivated. The energy seems to excite Yachty.
Yachty opens with a brief introductory skit, then dives into “Bentley Coupe” to bring the crowd to its maximum volume. He walks out what feels like his entire discography, talking through older, mellower songs like “Wanna Be Us” in a teaser-like fashion before bringing out his most loyal sailing partner Burberry Perry. Perry helps erupt the venue on explosive hits like “Mase In ‘97” (his collaboration with DJ Carnage). Other joint ventures, such as “Broccoli” with D.R.A.M. and “iSpy” by Kyle, are also included in the show, as are Yachty’s in-character antics. At one point, he asks if those in the room smoke weed and — after they obviously reply loudly in affirmation — announces that he and Perry do not. Oh, the irony.
Lil Yachty is a major figurehead for a young generation of rap stars. The Internet-fueled sub-genre through which he earned himself a Grammy nomination consistently stirs up controversy among the genre’s older, more seasoned gatekeepers (think Funkmaster Flex). Yet, at a time when records are expected to flop and the amateur rapper market is especially saturated, this 18-year-old has accomplished the unthinkable: He blazed his own odd-ball trail, fueled by a weirdly cool, playful energy and already, he has not only shifted the culture, but has apparently become an international star, too.
After his set, Lil Yachty announces that he and Perry will remain on stage for a bit to “turn up!” with fans, so naturally, they proceed to bop and boogy while Kanye West and Jay-Z’s hit record “N*gga’s In Paris” scores the scene. In those moments, the sheer sight of Yachty’s shy, boyish smile, standing up there in Paris, France with a glistening collection of diamond-coated rope chains dangling around his neck, literally illuminating (and illuminati-ing) his cartoonish persona, the underground, rainbow-headed rock-star, was truly a spectacle in itself.
Yet, the way the foreign kids respond to his music, and the energy with which they attempt to replicate the weirdly nasal, extremely specific twang in which he sings, shouts and (yes, of course) mumbles his lyrics — this remains the real sight worth emphasis, and breathtaking is the only word that can accurately describe it.
Lil Yachty’s music hardly make sense to most native English speakers. Surely, these French kids cannot understand the words? But they mouth along with tracks anyway, and their faces light up magnificently in his presence.
“It get colds like Minnesota!” It sure does, and now they know, even if many of them still have no idea where that place is.