It was maybe a 20-minute gig, but in that curt window Gunplay laid out why he’s emerged as rap’s premier, working mercenary. Those biting words. That post-Rick Ross howl that stuns. That towering frame and tumbleweed of dreads. Sporting black and red Jordans, blue collar jeans, a black v-shirt that accented his neck ink, and opaque shades, the Miami rapper born Richard Morales, Jr. scrolled through his in-progress stew of guest features and stunted singles.
“I’m out of this world, welcome to my universe,” he said a song into his address. Despite his manic energy and affection for clear spirits, Gunplay has perfected his on-stage lecture, one he gives apparently at every engagement:
“I’m motherfuckin’ Jupiter Jack! And I represent two M’s! Murder, mayhem, machines, machetes, millions, Maseratis, motherfucker! Making miracles, money-motivated Miami material!”
I kept waiting for his backline of well-wishers—mostly his traveling openers, Ciroc auto-tune club crooners Masspike—to interject by pointing out the Moët and MacBook nestled directory behind Gunplay. Nah, but then he ripped up his verse from “Hold Me Back.”
It’s worth backtracking. This was programmed as a fairly standard fare traveling cooperative rap concert. Here, a local promoter cobbles a dense opening bill of talent with hopes that each brings handfuls of friends. Eleven rappers were billed to perform between 9 p.m. and midnight, each for 10-15 minutes, with a master of ceremonies keeping the trains on time (DJ Echo), and a laptop.
A guy named J.P. Young was tasked with performing first in front of the sound guy, a female friend of his that filmed the whole performance on a phone, and less than 10 total patrons. He rapped about swag and Molly and did so strongly. He had this nice line that sounds easy but that I’ve never heard before, “I get up in that mix like I bartend, bitch.”
He had this one song, “Ease My Mind,” that was a spaced-out cloud rap gem.
There were quite a few highlights, actually: An almost surely Mexican kid named Yung C yelled over his CD in Tupac cadences. C rocked baggy khakis, a black zip-up hoodie, black do-rag, heavy ink, and repped Rosewood. C rapped about his daughter, Genesis; about being a blood, time machines, and with the line, “I feel like dying when the drugs run out.”
There was a not-quite-there-yet clique that had the ambition to trot a standalone metal guitarist who plucked along like a swimmer next to a tugboat. There was the Wu-esque collective, Frat House Gang, brought to life on this night by seven extroverted emcees. Think Beastie Boys circa Licensed to Ill party tactics, with the bounce and spirit of Da Backwudz’s 2006 crunk masterpiece, Wood Work. They dressed in all black with green bandanas, rapped about strippers and weed, and generally killed it.
There was a kid named Johnny Parelli from Houston that won the undercard. He had a Tyler the Creator lank and oddity about him, wore ’90s-era Timberlands with a tight blue hoodie. He had room-stopping Carmelo Anthony zingers. He rapped a lot like the patterns from “Forgot About Dre” but with more honed in, double-time flow. His throwaway lines like “I could scoop Medusa” hit with wit. His rapping routinely garnered “woahs” from the thin crowd and the wordplay was reliably timely and crowd pleasing (“Change my number like Kobe / in a car dashin’ like Khloe”). There was a mean-mugging, charisma-oozing female rapper named Lil T who is still green to performing, but got shouts from DJ Echo because she sold “over 35 tickets.” Hustle hard.
Make no mistake, Gunplay carried the night and delivered its best set. But that’s saying something.
The fact that less than 50 or so patrons popped their head into Red 7 on a snow day matters little. Rap concerts are Instagram photo ops these days anyway and up front—with swarms of freelance photogs and everyone on their phones—it looked legit. Gunplay sold the “I’m in Texas right now so I’ll gauge your fundamentals by playing Pimp C and let’s see who can sing along the farther back we go into his catalog” routine beautifully. That’s the rap equivalent of couple wedding dances where the last pair standing has been married for 50 years.
Gunplay crammed in his memorable verses (I kept waiting for his insane, how-did-it-not-make-the-album duet with Kendrick Lamar, “Cartoon & Cereal” to get a nod), and his neck tattoos throbbed and popped when he yelled the words to brilliant faux gangster fare like “Drop the Tint” and “Power Circle.” He got us live with the part where he’s like, “tell my enemies ‘fuck ’em’ / they know already but fuck ’em!”
His best song is “Bible on the Dash,” a summer ’13 single that may or may not make the guy’s proper debut solo record, Living Legend. It hasn’t done anything in terms of charts but I gave it shine on my critic ballot because it’s haunting, beautiful, loaded with hollow points. Here, it slayed.
Gunplay performed at Red 7 in Austin on Jan. 24.