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May 30 Vallejo/Vacaville Arts and Entertainment Source: LaRussell sets himself apart with BottleRock performance

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“What y’all wanna hear?”

The question was not a rhetorical one from Vallejo rapper LaRussell during his BottleRock performance on Saturday. The next song was dependent on an answer. Surrounded by the audience on all sides, the rapper hadn’t so much as “taken the stage” as he had left it to join the crowd.

Fans and new listeners alike turned inward to create a circle around LaRussell, who rapped and moved among them. When he repeated his question, someone shouted out a song title, pulling it from the rapper’s library of 20 albums and EPs released since 2018.

And with that, the set list for the next two minutes was determined.

“No one knows what’s gonna happen, we just go up there and play,” says LaRussell. “And that’s the same with the songs. I just allow the universe to use me. Whatever comes down and comes through me, I let it be.”

As he jumped from song to song and from the grass to the bleachers, LaRussell sang lyrics from a freestyle session he posted on TikTok last month. “I should stop calling ’em songs. These is life hymns,” he sang, his voice hoarse from matching the speakers.

Nothing summarized his effect on the crowd better than that line. LaRussell’s music worked as a channel for a message that even he doesn’t fully comprehend.

“It’s not a conscious effort at all,” said LaRussell. “I just talk about my experience. I’m not intentionally trying to be that guy. It’s just what comes out. That’s all I am, I’m just the messenger.”

The artist credits his hometown of Vallejo with largely influencing his creative identity.

“Experience just shapes you wherever you are,” said LaRussell. “It’s just a very unique place. It forced me to grind. I had to learn how to be independent because we don’t have any infrastructure. I had to learn how to communicate and build community with the people around me to even get to the point of being on a BottleRock stage.”

Vallejo’s LaRussell walks through the crowd as he raps during his set at the Truly stage during the BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival on Saturday. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

In fact, LaRussell’s hip hop brand and production company, Good Compenny, was created to bring that level of support to other artists. It’s not uncommon that the rapper turns his individual experiences into ones that benefit the community.

His recent pitstop at Sunshine Smoothies and Coffee in Vallejo turned into a free beverage for other smoothie patrons. “I thought it would be a good day for smoothies,” said LaRussell. “I enjoy smoothies so I just bought it out so everyone in the city could enjoy ’em for the day.”

As the rapper prepares to head on tour with T-Pain, he’s looking forward to bringing that neighborhood backyard feel to as many venues as possible. Because of this, stage size is almost irrelevant. This unique perspective is just one of many that sets apart the fast-rising artist.

Making the jump from his Vallejo backyard to Napa could have caused some apprehension but LaRussell said, “I felt like I had the advantage because there was no other hip hop acts or any other act that puts on the kind of live show I put on.”

“I actually felt like I had the advantage because people were ready to have some fun and groove and move and have that energy that they couldn’t get anywhere else those whole three days.”

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