Turning the corner out of the First Security Breezeway, Juanita’s made itself known by the stumpy line of concertgoers being processed through the I.D., pat down, empty out your pockets, then metal detector wand routine by one of the beefier, beardier, balder, no-B.S. security crews you’re liable to see around Little Rock. An LRPD cruiser brought the flashing blue light show, but for nothing more disobedient than a traffic citation a few car lengths down from the door.
With the exception of a blonde-haired kid dressed out in a full Kobe Bryant alternate kit being jostled out for some pretty blatant underage drinking, that’s about as dangerous as the night got for Waka Flocka Flame, the hyperkinetic, hulking, aggro-rapper whose abrasive, labyrinthine 2010 “Flockaveli” was either a watershed moment for rap, all but single-handedly creating the maximalist, hyperkinetic Chicago Drill sound, or one of the major bar-lowerings in its history. (Me, I love it. BOW! BOW! BOW! BOW!)
If you’ve heard a shredded-throat rapper (or 12, or 15, or a couple dozen of them, intimidating and multitracked) in unison over bargain-bin Roman gladiator trumpet synths and a metronome of firing squad shotgun blasts, you’ve heard Waka Flocka Flame — the “Itchy and Scratchy” of gangster rap, terrifying to the family values set, a hoot to young wiseasses in on the joke. All hook, no lyric, the music suggests the possibility of danger, but no actual threat of its exaggerated, kaleidoscopic PG-13 splatter.
So when the man of the night finally showed his face to a compacted and subdued, Disney-Channel-and-dubstep demographic (most of whom had been sobering up for the better part of three hours, these kids banned from the bar and subject to a no-reentry rule), Juaquin Malphurs began to make with either a half-assed, cash grab show to a thin crowd or something accidentally truer and more intimate than that.
See, just maybe the accidental rapper left the Waka Flocka Flame avatar behind, dropping the mask, and letting the crowd — who paid an prohibitively expensive $40 a piece for tickets, some splurging on a separate $50 meet and greet — in on the joke to hop on stage, grind on a semi-famous rapper’s leg, and play along with the dream.
Looking a bit awkwarded-out and a lot more sober than expected, Waka tore into his new flavor of EDM-rap with “Wild Out”; acquiesced to on-stage selfies, graciously; gave much dap to the front row; and even whipped a couple bottles of Ozarka around because, you know, that’s what you do.
By the end of his third song of the night, “Can’t Do Golds,” the stage was crammed with what looked to be a HAIM tribute band, a doppelganger for “The Deer Hunter”/”Manhattan”-era Meryl Streep, a young FBLA-er in a sweater vest grinding on whatever wound up in front of him, and maybe half the editorial staff of “Rookie” magazine.
It didn’t take him much longer to hop in the crowd to bullhorn “50k” (how much he commands for a show), “Rooster in My Rari” (guess what happening in his sports car in that one), and Young Thug collaboration “Danny Glover” (peeled off of the great new “Black Portland” mixtape) to a few dozen Waka Flockers clamored around the distracted-looking rapper, still going through the motions.
Now that the 27-year old is well on the other side of peak hype, an aging progenitor of a young man’s genre, fading more and more into a sea of younger, realer, crazier copycats that gets bigger each week, is his patience for putting on the Waka Flocka Flame character growing thin?
Looks like it.
Or maybe the unpredictable rapper just left all of his spontaneity in Austin the night before.
Heroes of the show: the whole Juanita’s staff, who stayed in good spirits throughout the night; the night’s DJs who stepped up to the task of keeping energy up and sustained through a weird-energy gig; and the concertgoers who were damned and determined to have $40’s worth of a good time by stepping up and bringing the energy Flocka couldn’t be bothered to provide.
Best moment of the night: a baby-faced kid definitely born in the ’00s, timid with shoulders around his ears, stepping out of the crowd to take a toothy, exhilarated, sweaty selfie with his older brother.