By Michael Canty
Oliver Francis. Upon hearing this name, underground US hip-hop/rap does not spring to mind. In this way, the self-proclaimed ‘small-town Missouri boy’ is constantly seeking to break stereotypes. Coming from a well-to-do family who suffered from the 2008 global financial crisis, Francis, who goes by Oli or Oliver, comes from the unique position of having had everything, to being broke.
He talks about this in an almost reveal-all interview with Ben Hegarty for the YouTube channel ‘Black With No Cream’, where he even mentions his work as a janitor just a few years ago. It would be easy to disregard Oliver as another rapper who only concerns himself with money and drugs. However, Francis has evolved far beyond this. His earliest works that garnered him attention, especially on YouTube and SoundCloud, such as ‘yeenreally’, contain the clichéd subject matter of the early ‘SoundCloud Rapper’. That is to say that Oliver sang about sipping ‘lean’ and carrying guns. Oliver has since admitted in interviews, and most notably in the single entitled ‘Gemini’, that ‘[he] was being somebody [he] wasn’t’ and now he releases music that is truer to self. Oli now stresses in his songs that he is more of a homebody; he doesn’t tend to go out and is more introverted than he once let on.
He started his performance almost as soon as the doors of the venue closed, refusing to keep his fans waiting
His reluctance to perform the archetypal role of the rapper feeds into his creative process through the creation of his beats on Fruity Loops in his bedroom, without any elaborate music-making software. Oliver certainly proves that a multi-million dollar recording studio is not necessary to create great music. It would seem that this effort to stay true to his character in his creative work is paying dividends. Oliver’s most listened to song on Spotify, ‘Aahhyeahh’, currently has over 14 million listens and with his European and American tour, ‘The Overdrive Tour’, having kicked off on the 23rd October, Oliver’s progress as a more serious artist is showing no signs of letting up. This huge success as an unsigned artist simply means that his popularity and talent cannot be ignored.
On his first ever trip to Europe, his tour began in London, at the sold-out O2 Academy Islington. A small and intimate venue, this certainly played into Oliver’s dedicated and almost cult-like following. His fans were able to be as close to their hero as they wanted without actually being on stage. He started his performance almost as soon as the doors of the venue closed, refusing to keep his fans waiting like other artists in the industry tend to do.
He began with ‘Chernobyl’, one of his grittier songs, which places a large accent on his lyrical flow with a relatively short hook and serves to prop up his ‘bad-boy’, self-congratulatory image. The hard bass of the song was guaranteed to pump up the crowd and inject a high energy to the event. His excitement to be performing for the first time in Europe was most well-reflected in the actions of Oliver’s “day ones”, his best friends Aahj and Trace Thorpe, who performed on stage with Oliver, lending an added sense of invigoration. Oliver was sporting a Palace skateboards t-shirt from the Winter 2018 collection. His t-shirt was perhaps not only chosen for its aesthetic appeal, given that the brand’s origin is London itself, for his apparel would have had another level of significance for his audience in The City.
Just when the crowd thought that Oliver’s show was over, he returned for an encore
Halfway through the show, the intense crowd was calmed. Temporarily, the atmosphere was altered as Oliver delivered an inspiring message to his fans about his struggles in the music industry; which, of course, was received warmly by the Francis loyal.
Just when the crowd thought that Oliver’s show was over, he returned for an encore of ‘Polo Socks’, a somewhat pastiche of Future’s ‘Thought It Was A Drought’ verse. Not only did Oli perform this hit, he went as far as to go into the crowd for the duration of the song, well and truly smashing the fourth wall, where he experienced for himself the ecstasy of his fans’ dedication to his art.
In all, Oliver Francis delivered a concert that covered all bases. He performed his songs with passion, interacted with the crowd and played all of his most popular songs. Oli catered to his most loyal and cherished fans by playing his fan favourites, songs only those who have been listening to him from the beginning would know; a section of his fan base that he values highly. Oliver has certainly come a long way from working as a janitor to putting on an extremely successful inaugural show of his European tour. It is not for me to say whether Oliver will go on to accomplish great things in this section of the music industry, nor is astronomical success necessarily what Oliver himself wants, but the future is definitely bright for Oliver Francis. Remember the name.
Image by Michael Canty