Review: RUSS Live At London's O2 Forum
This young London crowd lapped up every word with extreme alacrity, and he solitarily soaked it in - for this is an artist that essentially relies on himself, producing, writing and engineering everything alone.
The crowd started chanting, “where is Russ?’ at 8.50pm and then again at 9.10pm; the sold out O2 Forum crowd had arrived at 7pm, with excitement for Atlanta’s latest rap producing star palpable. The 24-year-old finally bounded out to a rapturous welcome of unhinged and incessant screaming, with what felt like an appropriate first track - Yung God.
Wearing a red Arsenal football shirt and a black cap, The DIEMON crew member quickly engaged with the crowd instructing them to, “put your hands up”. With a back catalogue of nearly 100 songs, the thinking woman’s Drake excels at making tracks packed full of everything popular; one minute there’s a hint of Eminem aggression, the next, a catchy trap beat. His ultra-cool vibe is more Roy Woods than the Weeknd though. He spits the confident, “I don’t need her, I don’t need him, fuck it I’ll do it myself” but effortlessly mixes the mood up, sliding into sentimental R&B song, Manifest.
Even before Kylie Jenner showcased some of his tunes on her Snap, Russ had steadily built up a legion of loyal fans; though the power of the Jenner social media bulldozer certainly didn’t hurt. This young London crowd lapped up every word with extreme alacrity, and he solitarily soaked it in - for this is an artist that essentially relies on himself, producing, writing and engineering everything alone. “This is f*****g crazy. Sold out to 200 people” he exclaims at various points in the performance; it’s clear he’s having trouble wrapping his head around his prosperity as he repeatedly tells the crowd of how he had played to only 300 people the previous year. And the Kylie-aged audience adore him - this is the type of music that’s currently being played in every campus dorm room across the land. They know every single word to every single song, and they’re wearing a stitched Russ logo cap as they sing along.
A Soundcloud success story, Russ put out a song a week on the platform until one caught fire and he signed to Columbia Records. When he hits the mic to lead fan sung renditions you hear the husky, seductive quality to his vocal and feeling confident he previews two tracks including the first single, Cherry Hills from his upcoming album; There’s Really a Wolf. He tells the appreciative crowd “No one in the world has every heard those songs played live.”
With some signature Chief Keef dance moves he blasts through his most recognisable hits Willy Wonka, Pull the Trigger, Psycho and of course, What You Want, which is his biggest track to date. Although the influences in his sound are apparent, his constant work rate overrides them and provide something a little bit different. His ad libs and stage talk need a bit of TLC though - there are only so many times you can tell an audience to put their hands up before it gets annoying and flipping the bird just feels a bit done. He closes out the set with Giggs' verse from KMT and the crowd finally lose their mind. With a dash of his raw arrogance, it’s clear that Russ is a master at giving devoted fans exactly what they want - with a bit more time on the road, he could soon catch the ear of everyone else.
Words: Sophie O'Kelly
Online Edit: Ra'ed Khan