THE WASHINGTON POST – Ever catch a rap show that feels so vivid, so brilliant, so dazzlingly present, it seems wrong to talk about it in the past tense? Saturday night is probably still rattling around in the brainstems of the thousand-plus DMV youth who jammed the Fillmore Silver Spring in Maryland to see YungManny and Xanman – two teenage cousins from nearby Prince George’s County who refuse to wait around for the near future, rhyming flagrantly ahead of the beat, violating temporality and decorum with an absurd amount of style.
These guys are surprisingly young – Manny said he’s 15, Xanman said he’s 18 – and they were very much performing for their peers on Saturday night. While they might not be able to sell out a similarly sized club in a neighbouring city, the attention they’ve sparked across the Internet makes rap resemble the meritocracy we should all want it to be. In an era when Lil Nas X can propel himself to the top of the charts by expertly gaming social media to his advantage, YungManny and Xanman continue to earn fans by being forward-thinking stylists. And when their mouths really get going, it sounds like the biggest thrill to emerge from this vicinity since the dawn of Bad Brains.
Each time they jumped ahead of the rhythm on Saturday night, everyone in the crowd seemed to lose their mind, if not their grip on the right-now. It felt different from other rappers who have staked out similar stylistic turf. Whenever Goonew, a fellow Maryland rapper, rhymes this way, he floats outside of time like a wraith. When Blueface, a voracious California bigmouth, does it, he’s a prankish virtuoso. But when Manny and Xanman decide to race the clock, it signals a lust for life, a yearning, an exaggerated stride into the future. They want to get there first, and they want to have the most fun on the way.
Manny opened his headlining set at the Fillmore on Saturday with Bonfire Pt 2, a lurching song crammed with evocative onomatopoeia, sports references and hyperlocal insults. “I’m at Benihana’s,” he roared over what sounded like a malfunctioning Jaws theme. “You still eat at Ledo’s!” Forty seconds later, when he reached the tune’s grand finale, the music had built itself up into massive shout-along aimed at some fraudulent Maryland suburbanite, “He say he from the hood, he really from Bethesda!”
Xanman flung a nearly identical razz at the residents of Brandywine, Maryland, during Pink, a booming vow of toughness during which he pledged to “stay in the field like a dandelion”. You barely had enough time to contemplate the poetry of that image, considering he had just rush-rhymed “dandelion” with “Family Guy”, “panty line”, “fan of mine”, “Granny cry” and “Channel 5”. If Manny’s words knock you over, Xanman’s simply make you lose your balance.
They were perfect foils for each other during the aptly titled Xanmanny, a song where their lethal boasting reached preposterous levels. Xanman promised to fill an enemy with lead like “mechanical pencils,” making all six of those syllables sound as precise as the metaphor demanded.
Manny, meantime, smooshed his threats up against references to children’s entertainment – the Wiggles, Caillou, Ms Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame – until things got goofy graphic. “He not a shooter, he’d rather just type it,” he shouted. “Cut his hand off – ARRR! Pirate!” He pantomimed the amputation, then jumped around in mock pain, curving his fingers into a hook.
It all sounds a little sociopathic on paper, but this was the same death-defying fun that kids have always gotten from horror movies, comic books and heavy metal. And if you were listening to the crowd chant along, it sounded like the opposite of your typical adolescent death fix. It was as if the entire room was stealing little glimpses of the future, squeezing a little more life out of time.
That’s rap music’s greatest gift, right there. Learn the words, learn where they fall in – or out of – time, and the rapper’s superpower becomes yours to share.