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Yung Gleesh was essentially knighted when he opened for nationally renowned DJ A-Trak at the 9:30 Club in June. “I only get a few opportunities out of the year to perform in front of thousands of people, and that was one of them,” the D.C. rapper says. “That boy A-Trak has millions of fans. It was baffling, man. Unbelievable.”
Since being thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 thanks to the viral spread of his “Skrong” video, Gleesh has carved out an odd niche that combines aggressive lyrics with the occasional comedic music video, like his bit for “Deuce Mane.” Still, he doesn’t worry that listeners won’t take him seriously.
“I can recall, back in elementary school, fighting people, and they were like, ‘Why you always fighting with a smile on your face?'” he says. “Like, you can take me for a joke, but while I’m beatin’ your ass, I’m laughin’ at you. I’ve never worried about people taking me for a joke because at the end of the day, I know what I’m talking about. Regardless of if it was funny or if I put some funny remarks in there to ease it up, at the end of the day you can tell I know what I’m talking about.”
Gleesh will present that no-holds-barred honesty at U Street Music Hall tonight as he headlines his first all-ages show. He fondly recalls being met with warmth from crowds in other cities on tour—-in some cases, warmth that’s stronger than what he feels in his hometown: “Really, I get more love [on the road] than I get in D.C. because D.C. niggas, they know me. It ain’t nothing for them to find me in a carryout.
“I get a lot of love, because [fans] out of town don’t play like people in D.C. do. D.C. people are like ‘Oh, I’m gonna buy them tickets tomorrow,'” he continues. “I got people calling my phone saying they’re gonna go to the door and buy tickets, and I’m like, ‘If you wanna play it like that, go ahead.’ When I go to places like New York, they sell out tickets like a week before I even get there.”
Though appreciative of his local supporters, Gleesh admits that he’s frustrated with people taking his infrequent local performances for granted. “Every time I do a D.C. show, I’ll promote it for two months or two weeks, and the day after, someone will be like ‘When’s your next D.C. show?’” he says. “I don’t understand the logic. Did you not see me promote that for a week straight? As soon as a D.C. show is over, someone is asking me about another one, and they didn’t come to the last one. I know what it is because I grew up here.”
Gleesh says this attitude reflects a change in priorities across the local music scene. “Where I grew up, we didn’t care about rappers, artists, fame and money. If you didn’t have respect in the streets…that’s all a nigga in D.C. cared about,” he explains. “Now, they don’t care about none of that. They just want to get on, get famous, and get the most Instagram likes.”
His wisdom on the inner workings of the area’s music scene is the byproduct of careful observation and his roots with the go-go band TOB. “It’s all new to me, but I knew what to expect because I was in the go-go industry. It’s the same shit,” he says. “The promoters and the fans all fuck with you one minute because you have the hottest songs out. But the same minute someone discredits you, [and] they’re all questioning you. But back in the day, if you had some questionable characteristics about you, it was a wrap for you. Now people are willing to overlook that just to get on—-so I don’t really like this new D.C., because people don’t even question your credibility anymore. To sum it up, that’s the D.C. scene: Niggas are just trying to get on.”
He’s annoyed by the industry’s self-promoting charades, but Gleesh credits his go-go experience with shaping the live performer he is today. “At the end of the day, I’m an entertainer,” he says. “I’m gonna put a smile on your face. You’re gonna be happy; you’re gonna be satisfied with what you got from me. I could just stand there like a poet or stand-up comic and not move, but would [the crowd] feel where I’m coming from and interact with me the way I want them to? I put out a certain amount of energy for these folks to give me a certain amount back. Go-go helped me out with that. I knew how to reach out to the people. I knew what the people wanted: They wanted you to be real.”
Gleesh knows the people want new material, too, which he promises to share with the U Hall crowd tonight. “Y’all been watching them old videos, but I got some new shit for you,” he says. He may be the jester of the local hip-hop scene, but don’t take him as a joke.
Yung Gleesh plays U Street Music Hall tonight with Grande Marshall, Mista Selecta, Sir EU, Uno Hype, Mike of Doom, and Flash Frequency at 7 p.m. $15.