“I see two of my bitches in the club, and I know they know about each other; I think these bitches tryna set me up, maybe I’m just paranoid.”
I cannot escape this song. While 93.5% of the average hip-hop party crowd is pining for the DJ to play this track, I am not actively hoping for it not to play, but the second it does, I am stunned, dismayed, and thinking: “Really? Again??” On a particularly bad night, due to popular demand, a DJ might even play it twice. This song is “Paranoid” by Ty Dolla $ign, who I eagerly went to see perform at the first edition of the hip-hop Encore Festival at NDSM Werf.
Since I have been traveling around Europe, I have missed the hip-hop concert and party crowds I am usually a part of at home, and have longed for the effervescent music that brings us together. I chose to succumb to “Paranoid” and join the masses at the Encore Festival, because although I expected a small, moderately passionate crowd and welcomed the new cultural experience of seeing an artist from the States alongside Dutch fans, at least I was certain these would be people I could have a good time with. Thus, I understood that to join this crowd I would be required to offer my ears as sacrifice for the duration of this plain and impressively monotonous song.
To my surprise, a small, moderately passionate crowd was nowhere to be found. An opening artist I had not realized was performing, Vic Mensa, had attracted a crusade of boisterous fans under the tent of the main stage. Vic Mensa is a talented upcoming rapper and I was titillated by the opportunity to see him perform live. He has a minor following in the States, which caused me to raise my eyebrow with both pleasure and confusion when I witnessed Dutch men and women flawlessly rap all of the words to his songs. Each song he performed sounded as smooth as if I was listening to a recording, which I might as well have been because I could see nothing over the hoards of fans’ bobbing heads. His playful track “Wimme Nah,” whose title is an amalgamation of the words “with me now,” garnered the greatest response as everyone in the crowd (including me) jumped with our arms in the air and chanted the catchy chorus. His genre-neutral, but certainly not genre-less, song “Down On My Luck” is an example of progressive experimentation with hip-hop that I find promising enough to put one in danger of obsession. I suppose everyone in the world is exposed to this risk, as the Encore Festival reminded me of the pervasiveness of American pop culture and capitalist ideals symbolized in performance. I suspect this worldwide penetration of pop culture is partly due to our dogged loyalty to capitalism. It was a fascinating experience to try and negotiate these thoughts while drinking 1€ beers and listening to lyrics like “both of my bitches drive Range Rovers.”
The DJ sets in between artist performances gifted me with the exact atmosphere and crowd I had been thirsting for. The floor turned into a colossal party, and in a manner that is quite at odds with folks at American concerts, everyone danced and wiggled without inhibition. Rather than being overly concerned with keeping one’s standing space secure — which I am unapologetically guilty of at many shows — in between performances the Dutch crowd and us American transplants freely moved our bodies to the funky filler music until Ty Dolla $ign came on stage.
The excitement the crowd exuded for Vic Mensa doubled when Ty Dolla $ign began his performance. In between songs, he took a second to shout out random fans like “the guy in the Ty Dolla $ign shirt” or “the girl with the ‘I love you’ sign,” ensuring that all groupie efforts were fruitful. A camera occasionally panned across the audience and streamed the feed on a jumbo screen. The enlargement of fans’ faces might have entertained individuals’ fantasies of fame, but in reality they continued to exist as a slice of the mass. It seems an inescapable truth that no matter where you go this is the nature of popular music performances. It was difficult to grapple with this because this is exactly the kind of show I love and zealously attend at home, and that I, to some extent, sought out by attending this festival, but the saturation of American-ness becomes overwhelming from time to time. At one point he invited several girls from the crowd to come up and “twerk” to “Paranoid.” The invitees quickly bum-rushed the stage and shook their butts with calculated precision and uniformity, and self-annihilated any indication of individuality — although I will bet a 1€ beer and two listens to “Paranoid” that is not what they were thinking about at the time. I in no way condemn them for having fun, but it undoubtedly added to the spooky feeling that I had been temporarily teleported back to California.
The interaction between the spectators and Ty Dolla $ign eerily resembled capitalist production themes of erasing individuality and veneration of the product. Ignorant of the totality, everyone screamed their loudest scream and performed a partial function in an attempt to carry their voice over the others, yet all yells, in Dutch or English, melted into one robotic, unintelligible, cohesive response. Furthermore, the entire show is not a unique event; it is merely part of a tour. He says his hypnotizing lines to animated fans in several cities. There is no end to the ideal of prosperity for the product. Despite my silent protests of his most popular song, in the end my face remained just another blob in the masses, feeding his production. In the capitalist production process, the overarching purpose is to accrue profit from a product. In his performance, Ty Dolla $ign and the artists under each of the tents dotting NDSM Werf emerged as products through the spectators’ glorification of them. As a result, capitalist ideologies of mechanized masses are unconsciously reproduced. Of course I understand this is the nature of countless performances, especially concerts, and particularly as an artist gains fame. Regardless, it was astonishing to have such an analogous experience in another country, and for me, the surprise and satire is furthered when Amsterdam’s cultural history of celebrations of the individual are taken into consideration. I had a blast at the festival, but in the wise words of Ty Dolla $ign, “Ohhhhhhh that’s familiar.”