A fair number of famous musicians have called Wisconsin home. Les Paul. Al Jarreau. Steve Miller. Justin Vernon.
Now, there’s Yung Gravy.
Matthew Hauri didn’t actually grow up in Wisconsin; he was born in Rochester, Minn. But the now 26-year-old was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison when he uploaded his first Yung Gravy EP to SoundCloud in 2016. A year later, he signed a deal with Universal Music Group's Republic Records (the label behind Taylor Swift, the Weeknd and other A-listers), before graduating in December 2017.
"I am proud to have spent part of my life in Wisconsin," Gravy told about 3,500 fans at the Rave's Eagles Ballroom Saturday, a stop on his "Baby Gravy" co-headlining tour with bbno$. He also revealed at the sold-out show that he once lived in the Third Ward for about three months.
Anyone who's following Yung Gravy — one of the most popular artists with Wisconsin ties right now — wouldn't be surprised to learn he graduated with a marketing degree. He may be more skilled at self-promotion than he is at making songs — generating headlines by taking TikTok star Addison Rae's mom Sherri Easterling as his date to the MTV Video Music Awards in August, and amassing seven million TikTok followers and two million Instagram followers with tongue-in-cheek videos that play up his lady's man persona with low-key, amusing absurdity.
Similarly, his intentionally dumb music is smartly calculated to grab attention, his vocal delivery dry as firewood, and the humor of his gimmicky, goofy samples and punchlines burning brighter as a result. That was especially true at the Eagles Ballroom Saturday.
For his breakout single "Mr. Clean" — which, incidentally, samples "Mr. Sandman" from Wisconsin '50s group the Chordettes — Gravy casually dropped ridiculous double-entendres as vintage commercials for cleaning products splashed on the screens behind him. (Alas, he didn't perform another song with a Wisconsin tie, "Sugar Mama" from his latest album "Marvelous," on Saturday. It would have been cool to see the guest on the track, Milwaukee rapper IshDARR, make an appearance.)
Newer song "Touch Grass" positioned a Gravy U.S. Senate campaign (with an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsement) as the ultimate flex, a ridiculous notion made even more laughable given his Miami-Vice-at-the-frat-house get-up Saturday.
And for his biggest hit, this year's "Betty (Get Money)" — which owes a lot of its appeal to a sample and interpolation of Rick Astley's unabashedly cheesy "Never Gonna Give You Up" — Gravy and bbno$ launched fake dollar bills into the crowd, as did several women up in the ballroom's balcony.
Nothing about Baby can be taken seriously — which, given these serious times, has found widespread appeal. Even when it came time to ensure the packed crowd stay hydrated, Gravy kept the mood light, dropping the preposterous rhymes to his flirty "Charlene" as he, security and members of his team tossed out water bottles. (He also nearly negated the purpose, encouraging everyone to spray the remaining water around for subsequent song "Dancing in the Rain.")
And the between-song moments Saturday seemed just as important to Gravy as the songs themselves, designed to create social media chatter and video sharing. He frequently showcased his favorites among the bras tossed on stage, went into the crowd to hand out roses, and autographed boxes of Lunchables that he threw out to fans.
Time will tell how valuable those autographs will become, if Gravy can maintain the momentum and continue growing the fan base. (Even the artist Gravy is clearly emulating, Lil Dicky, ultimately pivoted to TV with the well-acclaimed FXX comedy series "Dave.")
But Saturday's show also made it clear that Gravy's popularity will extend beyond those Lunchables' sell-by dates.
5 takeaways from Yung Gravy's Milwaukee show, including co-headliner bbno$; openers Terror Reid, DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip
Yung Gravy's rising popularity, especially in his sort-of home state, naturally helped sell a lot of tickets for Saturday's show. But the fact that fellow tongue-in-cheek rapper and frequent collaborator bbno$ (pronounced "Baby no money") was co-headlining was a strong selling point as well. The two shared the stage at the beginning, middle and end of the hour-and-50-minute set, with the two each holding their own on two occasions (for bbno$, 10 songs total). The energy never faltered when Yung Gravy left the stage. Honestly, bbno$ (hailing from Vancouver, and playing his first Milwaukee show) was the better performer Saturday, trading Gravy's straight-man swagger for animated geekiness, and backed by a more interesting visual aesthetic (animated sketches versus Gravy's jittery old movie clips and commercials). The between-song comedy bits were funnier, too, from conducting crowd screams over the "Jurassic Park" theme song to a reading of a spaghetti recipe from his own cookbook that elicited louder cheers with each mentioned ingredient. (He ultimately gave it to a fan, who in turn gave the duo a baby doll.) And one surprisingly tender broken-hearted ballad, "Help Herself" (set to animation inspired by Pablo Picasso's "The Old Guitarist") suggested bbno$ has the talent to try something new should his wink-and-nudge hip-hop ever lose steam (and its following).
Few things are more intimidating for an opener than hearing people in the crowd cheering the headliner’s name. But when cries for “Gravy” started rising from the crowd during Terror Reid’s set, the opener played it cool, encouraging more people to join the chant. To be fair, Reid (real name Tanner Petulla) didn’t deserve the "get off the stage" shade, but he wasn’t all that remarkable either. From the beats to the backward baseball cap he wore Saturday, he was channeling early Eminem vibes — minus the cutting-edge darkness, humor and flow (and, thankfully, the homophobia). There aren't many new rappers reflecting that aesthetic right now, which could benefit Reid once nostalgia for that era roars in. If not, Reid can focus on the sound that started his career, dubstep, as EDM star Getter.
Too often, DJ sets come across as hollow time-fillers, but Yung Gravy and bbno$'s DJ, DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip, definitely deserves a shout-out. His was the closest I've seen a DJ set come to the fun, chaotic randomness of scrolling through TikTok. Welcoming live suggestions over Instagram, and at one point flashing cute pictures of raccoons kissing on the big screens, Tiiiiiiiiiip (Taylor Madrigal, from Minneapolis) touched on everything from Paramore's "Misery Business" to Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and the high schoolers and early twenty-somethings passionately sang along to all of it.
I was not the least bit surprised to see a party projector shining rainbow-color lights from the inside of Yung Gravy and bbno$'s tour bus in the Rave parking lot.
The holiday decorations are up at the Rave — but not all of the Halloween decorations are down, which gives the venue a fun, creepy Christmas vibe, from eerie, animatronic kids on a see-saw in front of a Christmas tree, to a giant clown on the balcony overlooking the front entrance holding a present.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Yung Gravy performs in Milwaukee, returning to former home state