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Cultural Capital

Losing Your Black American Mind with RXK Nephew

At Elsewhere, the prolific Rochester rapper spoke from a void the crowd was all too eager to dive into.

11:46 AM EDT on June 23, 2022

A wavy time at Elsewhere with RXK Nephew. 

Rochester’s RXK Nephew’s chaotic and idiosyncratic stream of consciousness can overshadow his ironclad rapping and staggering ad-libs. His 2021 was one of the more prolific years in history—during which he dropped an eye-popping 400 songs on YouTube and a number of projects on streaming services, including the demonic Slitherman Activated. There wasn’t a day where Nephew wasn’t on your RSS feed. Nephew became the hardest-working rapper in western New York by combining internet humor, raps that sound like they are straight off Reddit, and a genuine confusion about the prisms of American life. His lyrics function as third-eye "mind activation" but he’s becoming a fully fleshed-out songwriter in 2022. The question now is whether he will lose his intensity, urgency, and prolificness, or be better off by becoming more versatile and well-rounded.

Onstage at Elsewhere in Brooklyn—only the second performance he has done in New York—on the main floor behind a bar railing that protects the artistNephew put to rest any doubt that he can translate his intense and unstable lyrics to a stimulating live show. As soon as the first "Damn son, where’d you find this?" drop obliterated the speakers, Nephew and his crew—featuring his sister Slitherher who raps very hard next to him— brought bedlam to the stage. By that point, the crowd that had been waiting for several hours to get crazy. The first song was the animated and boisterous "Back From the Dead," from the May mixtape I Recently Died and Came Back to Life. The stream-of-consciousness of  "No Hook" followed quickly. "Trying to slow down, on them drugs, them SHITS BE FUCKING ME UP," Nephew screamed while the group of kids next to me started pushing me, because they thought I was a part of the mob. Those first two songs were typical Nephew—a black hole of laceration and egomaniacal lyrics that celebrate hedonism. What more could you want?

On the stage, Nephew doesn’t have the best breath control yet—which is fine for an artist that is in the earlier stages of his career. He doesn’t speak to the crowd. He just performs like he is howling on the street for his livelihood in his native Rochester. Rapping while everyone is listening or hollering, Nephew has tunnel vision. He looks at the crowd through his shades, and while he’s there, it’s like he goes completely black in that zone. For a crowd like Elsewhere, he fits right in, he’s everything to everyone. White people like to sing, and the crowd at Elsewhere wants to dance, mosh, and make out. Nephew can supply the second option in empathetic precision, a seemingly incongruent addition to a rap show that nevertheless works.

Nephew did his songs in a hurry. Nothing about him is easy-going. It’s all demonic and rushed. If you make out his words, it’s because you can understand the Slitherman’s language. It makes me wonder where he goes from here. If majors are not lining up to sign Nephew, they should be. The airwaves need a shake-up and Nephew can be that. His pure songwriting is improving, as is his ability to flow over unconventional samples. After doing the hilarious but acidic "Hey Auntie," where he chides men who are "sitting at home listening to DJ Akademiks," Nephew reached back and performed the unheralded "Whitney & Houston" remix over x?an’s "Ben Balling" song. "Auto from Rocket Power" is a song that would not be out of place on the radio, in case any basic A&R’s are dubious on whether he could stream well. The setlist was apt for a crowd that either came for Nephew himself or was so high that they wouldn’t have been able to remember the words if they even knew them. If there was a time that the crowd was able to follow along with Nephew, it was the excellent "Beam On Ya Toes," where Nephew repeatedly shouts: "Slitherman got lines of cocaine."

Nephew is an Afro-Contrarian. If Hoteps accepted Black men who also did drugs, then Nephew would be one of them. He’s not sensitive. Towards the end, one of the songs that he performed was ".2, .2, .2" his remix to disgraced sexual abuser R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).” Check this, though—the song is wavy. Nephew blends the line between rapping and singing. Not quite getting to the full falsetto level but using his overloud voice in Kelly’s cadence to make this into a street anthem, instead of it being the only Black song that white college girls know. One lyric says: "Bitch don’t run up on me, your angels gon’ take you home." Despite it being over the beat of Kelly’s song, fans did not care. Nor should they have.

For most of the thirty minutes, Nephew was ultra-focused, with those intense eyes that have seen too much pain. It makes me wonder just how much he likes performing or recording music in general. Then, when I saw him after the show, he seemed relaxed. He was in good spirits. If we go to Nephew to understand the inimitable Black American mind that he has, then it makes sense that the concert would be a showcase for an ability to lose your mind without a care, or suspicion, in the world.

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