IN SEARCH OF LANCEY FOUX
🌐 Mystery sells, and Lancey Foux is selling out. 🌐
The sun is hanging low over Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and at Gramercy Theatre, the longstanding New York City nightlife hotspot, hordes of shaggy-haired teenagers with gold chains and leather outfits are filing behind one another in a haphazard line. The winding assemblage hugs the corners where Lexington Avenue intersects with E 23rd and E 24th Streets, blocking entrances to local businesses, while earning curious glances from dog-walkers and elderly couples alike. At some point, a student no older than 18 — nonchalantly nodding to whatever’s playing in his overhead headphones — is violently struck by a rushy old man throwing open the glass door of the TD Bank he just so happens to be obstructing. The kid’s reaction, an apathetic glance followed by an immediate return to what he was originally doing, is a fitting embodiment of the wave Lancey Foux’s New York City supporters are on this evening: nothing matters but whatever’s about to happen, and any and all offenders not prepared to surrender to it are barely worthy of eye contact.
Foux, a 27 year-old rapper-slash-cult-leader hailing from East London, is at Gramercy tonight for the New York stop of his “Life in Hell” tour, following the release of his explosive 2021 LP LIVE.EVIL. Look into the artistic presence he’s curated up to now, and the metaphysical dramatics such titles boast ring kosher — his music, almost as cultish as his punk-informed brand, manages to be buoyant enough to wake up a dead soul (if the mosh pit didn’t do it already), but simultaneously grotesque enough to make sure that dead soul wakes up in Hell. On “INDIA,” the earworm megahit from 2019’s FRIEND OR FOUX, spaced-out synths converge with abrasive 808s to conceive a jagged ode to women and romance. “And she ain’t gonna lie ’bout nun’,” he sing-raps about a nameless partner, voice gutturally lurching through a gauntlet of otherworldly soundscapes. “I could die right now, it ain’t nun’.” Whether Foux is singing from the living realm or the dead one, both in concert and on wax, an invitation is being extended to join his extraterrestrial ritual. And if the larger-than-life lightbox sign reading “LANCEY FOUX – SOLD OUT” above Gramercy means anything, it’s an invite that the vast majority accept.
“So when I think of New York, that’s home. If it ain’t Africa. if it ain’t London, it’s New York.”
Inside, puffy strings of weed smoke periodically rise from a rustling, swaying, often-erupting mosh pit stationed on ground-level. I start the show in its crevices, tucked between hordes of violent high-schoolers who happily push their way past me to get to the front. But upon further consideration, especially given that I’m carrying a laptop bag containing both my laptop and an uneaten Chipotle burrito I didn’t have time to finish before the show — both of which likely wouldn’t survive four hours here — I weasel my way into the upper sitting area midway through the opening set. Which, I soon realize, was the proper business decision: by the time Cash Cobain starts crowd-surfing his way through an unreleased collaboration with Lil Uzi Vert, the shirts have come off, the wallets have been lost, and my laptop and Chipotle burrito are thankfully intact.
When Foux finally jumps on-stage, an obscure black-and-white mobster film is eerily playing on a screen behind him, and it registers a lot like he’s a dark prince set on reclaiming his throne. Literally: besides a glistening gold chain, he’s wearing skin-tight black leather pants, a menacing pair of black leather gloves, a black headwrap, a black vest, and domineering black boots. His set is a maximalist encapsulation of such a demanding visual ethos — he’s a ragdoll on the elevated platform, screaming “New York, make some noise for yourself” until his voice rasps, lurching in gaping steps across stage, and only ever stopping the energetic onslaught to tell stories.
One such story is of his first trip to New York years ago, finding his footing as a musician under the wing of a local friend. “So when I think of New York, that’s home,” he intensely declares, as the high-schoolers that pushed past me to the front belt ecstatic yurrs behind frantically-waving cell phones. “If it ain’t Africa, if it ain’t London, it’s New York.”
On the phone with Foux a few days after the show, I figure that if New York was the start of his career, it’s probably a good start for an interview, too.
…Except, the interview never happens. I wrote everything you just read a month ago. That evening in June, it had been my first day on the job at a new magazine, and although a Lancey Foux interview did seem ridiculous, ridiculousness was more or less what I was learning to grow accustomed to — within the first few hours I spent in the publication’s sunlit office, my editor ate ice cream with Denzel Curry, I was hastily scheduled for a meetup with someone whose album Pitchfork had just crowned “Best New Music,” and, among other topics of conversation, the small-talk that emanated from the desks around me hinged on semi-spirited gossip about the inner-workings of Pharrell Williams’ family. That night, as soon as I left the building, I took the subway straight from work to Gramercy. 24 hours prior, I had been looped into an email chain with my boss, the magazine’s digital editor, its self-proclaimed creative director, and Foux’s manager. “Lancey has to head straight for the afterparty after his set,” Foux’s manager wrote, in what remains, to this day, the last email I have ever received from him, “but I’ll keep you posted if we’re able to make time for the interview. It might be best to plan for a phoner or to reconnect when he’s back in NYC later this summer. We’ll connect at the show and figure out what’s best.” He left his number, and signed off.
“He preferred to simply drop off the blueprint and leave, rather than stick around to answer any questions — including my own — about what exactly we were meant do with it.”
Our connection at the show happened exclusively in text messages, mostly sent by me.
6:32 PM: What’s up [LANCEY’S MANAGER], this is Sam from office mag – texting so u have my number just in case. Will probably hit u back after the show to ask if he’s free but ofc no worries if not, let’s touch base though
9:32 PM: Hey What’s good Sam thanks again for coming out. You get in with no issues? Yeah hit me after the show.
10:35 PM: Show was dope, yeah no issues getting in. Thanks for having me. Gonna hang around for a bit, LMK what’s up
10:38 PM [MOM]: I think the phone interview would be good. Remember you have to take a train out here.
10:45 PM [LANCEY’S MANAGER]: Thank you again! He’s still gotta do meet and greet and has had a long night so looking like we’ll have to do the interview another time so that he has the proper energy for you. We’re going to bring him back to NY soon
10:47 PM: Sounds good, lmk when he’s back! Preciate the discernment and looking fwd to tapping in w him, have a good night
Monday, June 13: Whatup [LANCEY’S MANAGER], hope you’ve been good – let me know if Lancey might be down for a phone interview sometime soon, piece is written up and we’re just looking to get the Q+A in there
Tuesday, June 21: Hey [LANCEY’S MANAGER], following up on this again, do you think something still might be possible here? Hope you’ve been well
In retrospect, everything from the first follow-up onward should have been handled over email, but a big part of me was slightly embarrassed at the prospect of revealing to my Pharrell-adjacent superiors that I wasn’t as cool as them — cool enough, at least, to get a response from someone they had apparently already been extensively in touch with — and an even bigger part of me was addicted to the “insider” feeling granted by being on a texting basis, rather than an email one. Outside of Gramercy, the same throngs of dread-headed tank-top wearers lit up charred joints and walked in a long, loose, lyric-yelling pilgrimage to the nearby 23rd Street R/W Subway station. Those that weren’t in this assemblage were lining the venue’s front, shifting their weight in talkative flocks underneath the fading “LANCEY FOUX – SOLD OUT” sign, impatiently awaiting the meet-and-greet promised on their backstage passes, all the while being subjected every now and then to the instructional yelps of a visibly-irritated security guard. It would, in fact, be a long night for Foux. I wouldn’t want to talk to me, either. In the days and weeks that followed, I grew increasingly content with a phone call — or even an email interview, if it meant I’d get a few words from him to substantiate the Q+A portion of the piece — which, as much as my desperation grew, continued to yield zero results. A follow-up email did ensue by the time I mustered the courage to reveal my loserdom to my winning colleagues, but at that point, Foux’s manager had long been done responding.
The brand of speechless elusiveness I experienced that night, whether it manifests in all-black leather stagewear or eschewed post-show interviews, is both typical of Foux, and an integral factor of his puzzling mystique. I was introduced to Foux in November of last year, when a friend who occasionally MCed on a vulgar after-hours college radio show called “The Mischief Hour” ironically texted an Apple Music link to my Android phone. The link served me “INDIA,” the aforementioned spaced-out banger in which women become eroticized space-aliens, and, as the futuristically-horny Pharrell Williams that commanded the early aughts would likely co-sign, sex talk is allowed a cozy coexistence with sci-fi. It sounds exactly like what Williams envisioned, when, in 1999, he hopped on Kelis’ “Roller Rink” to swag out the lines “Me and you fucking in the window of my spaceship.” (Not to be confused with “Delivering our firstborn on a NASA space shuttle.”)
Playing the song when I did — a Sunday night, in my first semester, of my first year, at a horny school, in a horny dormitory house, on a horny dormitory floor — made it feel that much more like the key to something I didn’t understand yet. In Joe Pernice’s 33 ⅓ Meat is Murder narrative, he writes, of the opportunity for romance the Smiths’ sophomore LP provided his lovestruck unnamed narrator, that “it was too perfect. A powerful, ready-made connection. Meat is Murder was the giant shaded area of intersection in our venn diagram. The trick was to somehow convert the motherlode of our love of the album into love for each other.”
“The vast majority, whether consciously or unconsciously so, are still looking.”
On a similar thread, with “INDIA” — even though it was only one song — Lancey Foux had configured an analogous eureka moment for this generation’s litany of sex-obsessed punk-aspirants, a list that spanned from the dozen or so class-skippers comprising The Mischief Hour’s listening base, to the winding admission line temporarily shutting down Gramercy Theater’s neighboring businesses. The thing with Foux, though — much like what Pernice’s narrator seems to figure out about the Smiths — was that, unlike the class of clout-chasing punk-rap acts he came up amidst, he preferred to simply drop off the blueprint and leave, rather than stick around to answer any questions — including my own — about what exactly we were meant do with it.
Foux rarely gives interviews, and the few print ones he’s done aren’t realistically being read by the high schoolers populating his 635,000 monthly Spotify listeners. The dynamic leaves answer-seekers with short attention spans one place to look: social media. And in that realm, the enigmatic Londoner’s presence is manufactured to make his mystique more interesting, and distracting, than any of the concrete facts frantic consumers may have come to find. Lancey Foux runs his Instagram account a lot like how Suzanne Collins’ game-makers would run a “Hunger Games” competition. In the days immediately following the concert, when I still thought I’d be interviewing him, I checked his Instagram page for some clarity on the black-and-white mobster film that had been playing throughout his set. The first time I looked, the comment echoing my question had racked up a few hundred likes — until the following afternoon, when I checked his page again to find that comments had been turned off. The post dedicated to the show was captioned in what, when sounded out, I imagine to be a cockney dialect of Cartinese: “New York… FUCKily!i” Foux is obscure in the aforementioned sense that, most of the time, he’d prefer not to be there to answer for his music. But rather than allow his fans to construct the cryptic cult of personality he thrives in, he builds the void himself, one song, sold out show, or cryptic tweet at a time, chipping away dutifully at the bridge his enthusiastic listeners so desperately want to cross in search of whatever’s living behind the lore. The vast majority, whether consciously or unconsciously so, are still looking.
On the 12:26 Ronkonkoma train home from the concert, as Rangers fans quarreled with middle-aged men in well-fitting Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys — context: that night at Madison Square Garden, the Lightning took a 3-1 lead over the hometown team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, which, although everyone dressed in blue and red valiantly tried to deny that it would happen, did in fact lead directly to the gentleman’s sweep that would be finalized one game later — I took another listen to LIVE.EVIL, unknowingly trying to make sense of what I’d just seen at Gramercy. Whether due to the fact that I have an Android, the fact my fingers had been smudging its camera lens in my pocket the entire time, or the fact that I didn’t really do anything to change it, I had no good footage of the show, which crystallized the existential dread of not having had a firm grasp on much of anything that happened that night. The three photos I took were blurred beyond comprehension. When I texted heavily-filtered versions of them to my editor in hopes of convincing her to run the piece as a concert review, she left me on seen.
I had to leave with something, and re-listening to LIVE.EVIL was the vehicle that I determined the means to this “something” would be: I’d find at least one song I either liked or remembered from the performance, and, for the time between then and whenever the interview happened, it would be my mini-keepsake. The track that ended up doing the trick was one through which I remembered him telling the audience — “My people in the back too!”, he demanded, effectively reminding me that I wasn’t off the hook — to either put their hands up, or hoist the flashlights on their cell phones. “I KNOW” sees Foux reckon with the existential trappings of newly-incurred notoriety. “I know, I know, I know,” he admits, auto-tuned voice spilling over tamed synths. “Something so wrong feels so right.” Artistically, Lancey Foux subverts many of the previous vanguard’s unwritten rules to being one’s own publicist — he isn’t very direct, his stage act is cryptic without seeming to have any rhyme or reason to its mystique, and he sparingly takes the many opportunities he’s given to explain himself — but, even if only for the consumers, something about it feels so right. Mystery sells, and Lancey Foux is (literally) selling out.
He represents a growing generation of punk-adjacent rap acts who seem to favor mystique over concrete shticks. An extreme example is Dean Blunt, who has a cover-story only policy for press coverage, and often finds pleasure in turning his concerts into avant-garde existentialist experiments. “It’s a Thursday night in March,” SPIN’s Harley Brown reflected in a 2016 thinkpiece, “I’m at Bushwick DIY stronghold Market Hotel, and the thermostat is set to 80 degrees; the space is so saturated with mist that the visibility is five to ten feet at best. Pretty much everyone inside the packed room is sweating and swaying to the ponderously dubby bass lines, samples of sirens and shattered glass, and generally corrugated noise of avant-punk provocateur Dean Blunt, who’s standing Christ-like above his audience, drawling lines like, ‘All the crackers in the crowd looking cool.’” Blunt had given every member of the press on the guest list a fake name, which came with their ticket — Brown’s was “Jo O’Meara & Hannah Spearritt” — and if it wasn’t fully an avant-garde event, the fact that it inhabited the strange gray area between that and a “concert” was what made it endlessly interesting both in-person, and on paper. There’s an already-strong collection of “weirdo rappers” (Ol’ Dirty Bastard, JPEGMAFIA, Young Thug, Danny Brown, et cetera) that have historically made the case for similar oddball approaches, but the growing distinction personified by the likes of Foux and Blunt is perhaps best classified as “obscure.” Weirdo rappers still have shticks — whether it be ODB’s never-ending mission to screw the government, JPEGMAFIA’s escape from the military (or his hatred of Morrissey, which Pernice may take exception to), or Young Thug’s Atlanta rags-to-riches gospel — but obscure rappers, contrastingly, thrive in the lack thereof. The gray area, much like how it operated in Blunt’s show, is what makes the vision as appealing as the music is sometimes unsettling.
“The less straightforward sense a rapper makes, the more we tend to idealize the little we’re able to grasp.”
There’s a portion in Pernice’s Meat is Murder book where the narrator, hoping to impress his Smiths-loving crush, endearingly seeks to mold the LP to fit his own way of being. “It proved more of a challenge to bend and apply the song ‘Meat is Murder’ to fit the simple curves of my life,” he journals. “The problem was that I like meat. A lot. I was raised on meat.”
If “meat” equals substance, culturally speaking, we were mostly raised on meat, too. Any hot dog-grilling uncle on Independence Day will tell you that hip-hop began as a poetic means of voicing grievances, clearly and with literacy being a selling point — but, much to that generation’s dismay, the less straightforward sense a rapper makes, the more we tend to idealize the little we’re able to grasp. Drain Gang’s chirped hieroglyphics inspired hordes of pubescent teens who swore they got it; Playboi Carti’s boastful fringe-raps made a raucous era of outsiders rally behind him like he was Forrest Gump; Lancey Foux’s evasive ethos made not getting to meet him more interesting, perhaps, than interviewing him at 1 AM.
I am as close to understanding Lancey Foux as I was a month ago, dwarfed by weed smoke at the entrance of Gramercy Theater, and awaiting a text back from his manager. The fun only ends when the answers begin — and for now, it doesn’t look like they will. To Lancey’s manager: if you’re reading this, delete my number.