There has always been a place for humor in rap, with a lineage reaching back to the Beastie Boys’ debut album or 2 Live Crew’s raunchy records in the eighties. The caveat for “funny” rap being that if you go the humorous route, you need to have your bars land right, and to do so with your own, unique style. Otherwise, you risk coming off clownish. Against all odds, Minnesota’s Yung Gravy deftly walks the tightrope, and sticks the landing (most of the time).
Rochester-born Yung Gravy — born Matthew Hauri, he chose his name because it sounded “smooth” — straddles the line between meme-tastic joker and serious rhyme purveyor. He sold-out a home state show on Friday (Feb. 21) at Live Nation’s brand-new downtown Minneapolis venue The Fillmore where the 14 to 24 set can’t get enough.
“Minnesota, you have a really important place in my heart,” he said from the stage towards the end of his set as young girls shrieked. What he gave ticket buyers Friday night was a mix of “Minnesota nice” coupled with the full force of his party-centric mentally: a heady mix from the six-foot six-rapper, who comes across as more of a charismatic soccer or basketball player than a rapper at times.
The 23-year-old played a mix of older material and fresh tracks from his just-released EP, “Baby Gravy 2.” All of the songs on “Baby Gravy 2” feature Gravy’s longtime friend, and the ying to his yang, Vancouver-based rapper bbno$, who was certainly missed when Gravy attempted these tracks in live setting (bbno$ has his own solo spring tour this year, which kicked off at Slim’s in San Francisco last night).
Take, for example Gravy’s attempt at tackling “Whip A Tesla,” one of his standout tracks that he attempted mid-set asking two fans from the audience to fill in for bbno$. The stunt didn’t turn out well, as neither fan knew all the words, despite claiming they could handle bbno$’s part of the song. (The newcomer is also off to a strong start as a solo artist — bbno$’s track “LaLaLa” surpassed 500 million streams on Spotify and he was recently signed to Columbia Records).
Regardless, Gravy’s magnanimous gesture came off as another example of his winning fan-centric personality, and he wields that curious mixture of Minnesota manners with sly swagger to dexterous effect in a live setting. The sheer force of Gravy’s nice guy-with-an-edge party ringleader persona (which he insists is real and not an act), coupled with his laconic, laid-back delivery, makes for a persuasive push to revel along, which is precisely what Twin Cities teenagers packing the house did on Friday night. Indeed, the 1,850-capacity venue was shaking as fans screamed along to such tracks as “1 Thot 2 Thot Red Thot Blue Thot” and “Mr. Clean,” underground anthems learned via watching his campy yet hilarious YouTube clips or perhaps heard at a frat party.
With no radio play, the rising rapper has amassed a staggering number of Spotify and YouTube streams in the past few years — totaling over 1 billion global streams and around six million monthly listeners split between Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and Pandora, according to his label, Republic Records). Gravy’s marketing acumen has also gained him over a million followers on Instagram (he studied marketing at the University of Wisconsin and moonlighted on the side while in school at Gener8tor, a Madison-based accelerator that works with venture capitalists and invests in high-growth startups). Certainly, his Instagram crowd showed up for his weekend set, which culminated in the rapper bringing out his own mother from nearby Rochester to fill in for bbno$ on one song. Cracked Gravy: “I never thought I’d rap with my mom … Let’s get mama no money up in this bitch.”
Next month, Gravy teams up with DJ Dillon Francis to co-headline a North American tour they’ve dubbed the “2020 Sugar, Spice and Everything Ice Tour,” which is sponsored by video-sharing app TikTok. If Friday night’s show in Minneapolis was any indication of what’s to come this spring, fans can expect a party for the ages that even a mom could love.