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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rahbi presents: Glam style 101

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When Rahbi hits the stage for his Strange Fruit III show at Sugarhill (9 p.m., Sat. July 26. 50 Upper Alabama St. www.sugarhillatl.com), you can bet he'll be suited up in an outlandish costume to go along with his outrageous stage persona. At last year's Strange Fruit II show (subtitled "Inspire Me, Damnit"), his multiple costume changes included a Napoleonic colonel's jacket with tails, and a sequined Michael Jackson-esque shirt circa "Motown 25" unbuttoned to his navel.

When it comes to theatricality, the self-proclaimed prince of glam soul is a royal diva. So in preparation for the show, I decided to tag along with him to his favorite costume shop to see how he planned to visually convey why he is, as he says, "the muthafuckin' shit."

Take notes.

Rahbi: This shit is hot!

Rodney: I mean what is it, what would you call that?

Rahbi: See you know what, I ain’t no fashion guru like that. I just know the way I do it is when I put it on does it make me feel good, does it make me feel like I’m fly? I don’t really know all the correct terms and the couture and this and that. No, I don’t go off that. I just put it on, and if I feel like I’m the shit when I put it on, then that’s the right thing. Man, I’m serious. I don’t know about all that.

But, you have to know what look you’re going for. You know what I’m saying. And with this shirt I’m going for a more like a royal prince look. Kinda like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. Or Caligula.

I’m going for the whole regal look. If you wanna be specific it’s called Elizabethan. Yeah, so the whole fringe on the collar.

Rodney: So how do these crazy onstage costumes translate what you're trying to do artistically?

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Rahbi: I’m doing this because all my shows have themes, and this show is called “Rahbi presents Strange Fruit Part III: I’m the Muthafuckin' Shit." And in this show, I’m the prince of glam soul. I’m the prince of Atlanta also, and I’ve invited all the elite citizens of the kingdom, Atlanta, to come and participate in my show.... Kinda like the Cinderella story. Well no, not really, not like that at all.

So I invited all the elite members of the community to come out and experience this show and only those with the most swagger shall enter the kingdom, you know. You gotta be looking your best, you gotta be the shit to come to the show. You can’t come to my show looking any kinda way. 'Cause I’m nothing without the support of my beautiful people.

But it ain’t all about the clothes. You make the clothes. You gotta be beautiful on the inside, then you make that shit look good. 'Cause you could be hot in the face and like put on some high heels and not know how to rock it. It’s all about swagger. When you got a daddy like Prince and a mama like Grace Jones, you can’t help but have crazy swagger. That’s me; I’m the shit. And I wanna let people know that they’re the shit too. I think it’s exciting.

I need to get me a crown, dog.

Rodney: Sounds like it's part of a big, elaborate fantasy for you?

Rahbi: The reason why I want to dress up is 'cause it just makes it fun for me. You know, like a lot of people just wear their normal clothes, and it’s boring. You know, it makes me excited about my show when I know I’m going to play this certain character tonight or I got some type of costume change. Everybody can’t come on stage with their cell phones on. That’s whack. That’s lame. How you gonna call yourself an artist and then come on stage and look like everybody else in the audience? Like you can’t even tell the difference. Back in the day, people had like these elaborate costumes on. Labelle and Earth, Wind and Fire, Rick James, and it was just really entertainment, and that’s what I’m bringing back to the stage.

Rodney: What kind of tricks do you have planned? You've always got some kind of sexual innuendo being acted out onstage?

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Rahbi: Always. Always. You got to come and see the show to find out. I’m not gonna tell you. It could be anything with me, cause you know there are no limits to what I do. I can’t explain it without giving away the climax.

My girls [background singers] have to have like pretty legs. That’s just what I like. They gotta have lift, and no flats. Gotta have heels on, keep it sexy. Nobody wants to look on stage and think about their mama.

I like flashy stuff too, flashy sequins. When the light hits it, it sparkles and you look rich.

Rodney: So you're up to Strange Fruit III now, what kind of response did you get from the first two?

Rahbi: The first show was “Strange Fruit Part I: This is Why I’m Hot.” And, I really wasn’t concentrating on a particular image. That was really my first time doing the beats and everything. It was just letting people get into my music and just doing wild and crazy stuff.... So, I had stuff like the pole dancer, the girl with the pole, the stripper, the pole dancer. And just stuff to catch people off guard that might appear a little strange at first.

But the second one, that’s the one when I knew I wanted to make my shows a little more theme-based. The second one was “Inspire me Damnit,” so everybody was an artist that has inspired the artist Rahbi. So therefore we dressed as the characters. When I did Michael Jackson, I wanted to dress up in sequins, like you know in the early '70s, and then I did Rick James and Annie Lennox.

Rodney: Have you been traveling a lot this year?

Rahbi: I have been out to California. I’ve been to New York, Dallas, Tennessee. They’re about to send me to Florida.

Rodney: How are these shows coming about? Are these promoters you’ve been reaching out to or promoters who've heard about you?

Rahbi: A little bit of both. But all of it is off of MySpace relationships. They’ve heard my music off of MySpace or different promoters. A promoter from Dallas might have seen me, so he told another promoter in California about me. Richard Dunn [who manages Anthony David] helps out a lot too, and I appreciate him spreading the word to different people. Word of mouth. That’s what I always tell my audience: Go out and talk because word of mouth promotion is sometimes better than in the magazines, you know, shit. It’s hot.

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I’m the shit. I am, Rodney, and you gotta let the people know that. And Erykah Badu was here about a month or two ago, and I went and checked her out at the Fox Theatre. And after the show was over, 'cause I met her in Dallas about a year ago, and she was like, “Rahbi, I just want to let you know that you’re the next big thing. Your time is now.” And I believe that. And to get a response like that from an artist of her caliber is like crazy. She’s like a fucking legend. I love what she does. She’s a true artist. And for her to get me and understand me and tell me that I’m next is like hot.

Rodney: So for people to get you, what is it that they have to get?

Rahbi: When I say 'get,' I guess I mean they’re not really thrown off. They understand it. They understand the extravagant costumes. They understand the androgynous energy. They get me. It doesn’t throw them off. They don’t look at it and be like “What the? What?” They get it. You know what I’m saying. It makes sense.

Rodney: Have you been surprised that so many people in Atlanta's soul scene -- which has become pretty conservative -- have gotten you? Have you been surprised by how much they’ve embraced you?

Rahbi: No, everybody loves Rahbi. And then, when they don’t get it in the beginning of the show, by the time the show is over, they understand. Everybody gets me. But it’s a thrill when somebody like Erykah does. It lets me know that I’m reaching all types of people: young, old. There are high school people that feel me, there are middle school and 80-year-old folks, everybody loves me.

Maybe I should keep my crown on? Maybe I shouldn’t show the price tag?

Costume salesperson interrupts: For what you’re doing, this is often what I recommend when I’m doing shows. Sometimes the costume can be a prop. Instead of wearing it, play with it.

Rahbi: That sounds good. Insead of wearing it, play with it, baby. I like that. Thank you, I’m gonna use that in my show.

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Rahbi turns back to interviewer: That’s another thing. Don’t ask nobody [else's opinion]. Don't ask where they buy things. Nobody knows you better than you. Go by how it makes you feel. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Matching is not in. That’s not in style. You’re trying to achieve a look. It’s not about this is green and that's green. That’s country! It is. See what I got on now. It don’t match. You know what I’m saying? It’s the right look. I look hot now with my shit together.

Rodney: You're crazy man.

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