With seven minutes until stage time the crowd gathered outside Mapfire Stadium at the Prime Stage of Breakaway Festival Columbus began to chant. “Ugly God, Ugly God, Ugly God.” A hype man for the festival took the stage to fill time, urging the crowd to sing along with a collection of Kanye, Drake, and 2 Chainz cuts, but the audience had already made their demands known. The XXL Freshman had been a highlight of the festival line up since his appearance was announced and now, just weeks after his Booty Tape release hit the internet, his biggest performance in the state of Ohio to date was about to begin.
“Check this out, man,” Ugly God told the crowd arriving on stage to the instrumental of his hit “Water” six minutes late. “Can I get a, ‘Thanks Ugly God?” The crowd responded. “Can I get a, ‘Fuck Ugly God?” The crowd responded again, this time louder than before.
Ugly God had barely been on stage thirty seconds and his entire brand has been presented in full. Some might say his entire career, even. His two taglines had been uttered and his biggest hit had been played. The crowd was immediately satiated, setting the bar even higher for what was to follow.
The clouds covering Columbus grew increasingly grey as the rapper – real name Royce Davidson – began performing the majority of his Booty Tape. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Ugly God rapped along to The Booty Tape while the tape played. No instrumentals were heard, just regular mp3s that helped fill the gaps in between Ugly God’s numerous breaks in his already stuttered flow. There was no one else on stage. There was no dancing. Just one man, a DJ, and a lip synced playlist booming through the speakers.
For a period of time the crowd fell flat, as if it had simultaneously became awkwardly clear to everyone in attendance that this was not the internet as Ugly God moved from song to song he rarely addressed the crowd, choosing instead to pace the stage and bob along to his material. This was not a place where one could choose how people received the latest action from a character or persona they created solely to appease the digital masses. In this moment an artist born of the internet generation was presented with the oldest of challenges for any entertainer could face and struggled to overcome it.
But overcome it he did.
Bringing the set full circle, Ugly God eventually made his way back to the viral sensation that launched his still very young career. “Water” poured through the speakers, waking the dulled crowd, and suddenly the moment was alive once more. For the next several minutes “Water” felt as fresh as it did when it first premiered online back in March 2016 (practically a lifetime in music today), but it was admittedly hard to hear over the roar of the crowd singing along with every line. Like the first day of spring that reminds us winter is not forever, Ugly God used “Water” to remind the crowd gathered at Breakaway why they had dedicated their day to seeing his presence on stage. It was party, albeit a brief one, and Ugly God departed to the same chants of his name that greeted him some thirty-five minutes prior with a smile on his face.
One of the many things that has always separated Ugly God from other recent rap sensations is his embrace of his shortcomings. Ugly God knows he isn’t the best rapper, or performer, or lover, or even person. His whole character is built on the idea that if you work with what you have it doesn’t matter what you have as long as you work really hard and own who you are. Ugly God makes people feel something with everything he does while being himself and embracing the fact it won’t be for everyone. I cannot tell you that he found a succinct, empowering way to share this optimistic outlook on life with the crowd, but he was never anything more or less than himself.