July 10, 2014

Doc Zeus drinks super fruit smoothies out of Gucci blenders

“Is this guy fucking serious?”

Nearly every piece of substantial music journalism conducted around Riff Raff over the last few years seems to center around the earnestness of the Houston rapper’s basic existence. The slack-jawed perplexity surrounding Riff Raff’s rap career, from both journalists and rap fans alike, is real and very palpable. Nobody can seem to believe that this lanky, chrome-teethed white guy with the crazy braids and Southern drawl is not some form of ugly hipster joke—a grotesque parody of hip-hop culture as performed by your average, ignorant frat bro from Duke.

It’s not just because he’s your average caucasian interloper in hip-hop culture, either. These days, hip-hop is positively teeming with awkward white rappers that cause hip-hop fans to grind their teeth in rancorous disbelief. For many of hip-hop’s backpacker purists, the rapper born Horst Simco takes cultural appropriation and seemingly pushes it into toxic distortion. Riff Raff got his start as a particularly outlandish contestant on an MTV reality show, he’s cartoonishly buffoonish in his endless YouTube videos and his manner of dress is perilously close to becoming a hip-hop Al Jolson. He’s also an artist that many fans of rap’s more ratchet catchet have trouble accepting, too. His adoption of many of the same styles as artists such as Gucci Mane or Soulja Boy feel like insincere mockery of trap rap tropes—a privileged white artist pretending to be “ghetto” for the amusement of other privileged white assholes. If perception is reality, no matter how genuine Riff’s intentions are, there is a portion of hip-hop fans that will never accept him as a “real” artist. This is a potentially big shame because his debut album is Neon Icon is shockingly… good.

Nah. You can’t be fucking serious.

It’s understandable that Riff Raff’s persona makes many fans feel uncomfortable and his performative cult-of-personality colors nearly every professional critique of the artist since his emergence over the last few years. Nobody wants to accept a world where Riff Raff is a legitimate artist. Despite this, Neon Icon is a surprisingly accomplished debut for the ex-reality star. On the album, Riff Raff channels his overtly ludicrous public persona into an LP that is one of the most diverse and uniquely fun albums of the year. Neon Icon is a rainbow colored playhouse of mismashed genres covering everything from old school hip-hop, trap rap, disco and even country. It’s easily the year’s weirdest pop album—a quietly transformative rap album from a hip-hop outlier.

Nope. Not buying it.

Let’s get this straight. Riff Raff is nobody’s idea of a traditional lyricist and at face value, Mr. Jody Highroller trades in the same cocaine-n-luxury rap tropes that give rap traditionalists hives even from the most “authentic” of trap star. However, what makes “The White Gucci Mane With A Spray Tan” worthy of serious consideration is that he possesses a surprisingly strong understanding of rap songwriting and has mastered many of the fundamentals that escape your average MC. Riff Raff’s molasses-y Southern drawl is strong and rarely feels affected while his often hilarious, free-associative pop culture referencing rhymes are directly reminiscent of lyrical dadaists like Ghostface. When combined with his solid ear for various kinds of production, Neon Icon becomes something approaching a more overtly absurdist Supreme Clientele as interpreted by Paul Wall on a three-day coke bender. It’s all weird, stupid fun.

On “Introducing The Icon,” the album’s electric opener and best song, Riff Raff highlights his talent for writing Mitch Hedbergian one-liners over a DJ Muggs channeling beat that even traditionalists should admit knocks. “I can ball at the mall, shoot hoops too, whole crew rockin’ suits made my Bruce Bruce/And my wood wheel is a Bruce Spruce,” Riff Raff raps at one point on the song.There are many rappers that may brag about the wood on their dashboard but there are few that would dare compare their automotive’s steering wheel to a sentient, mall Christmas Tree. (Seriously, look it up! ) Riff Raff is a funnier and more clever writer than many are willing to give him credit. It’s not hipster pretension to think Riff Raff is funny on the merits of his songwriting when he’s writing obscure jokes like that.

Many of the others songs are simply catchy as all fuck and feature an array of diverse styles that Riff Raff easily rocks over. It’s the rare rap album that features trap rap tunes such as “Tip Toe Wing In My Jawwdinz,” spacey Drake mood rap like “Versace Python” and country rap jams like “Time” that are all confidently executed and feel comfortable co-existing together. While it’s certainly NOT a perfect album—too many tracks like the idiotic rap rock jawn “Kokayne” feel like a limp attempt at radio crossover relevancy—the album has a lot of things going for it that make it unique on the rap landscape.

Ok, yeah but still…

If Neon Icon’s statement of purpose is to change the minds about Riff Raff from the majority in the rap community, it is probably largely going to be seen as failure. The album might be too sly and weird to co-exist with basic rap dogma. In the end, Riff Raff is what he is. Jody Highroller is a clown that might secretly be the most self-aware man in the entire damn industry. If the album’s purpose is to entertain? Well…Neon Icon is worth your respect even if you are never going to be able to give it.

Ehh… Fine, whatever. Spring Breakers was pretty awesome, though.

Yes. It was.

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