Premiere: Roga Raph’s “Visionary Shift” Album

The NYC rapper gives off that old school feeling without coming across as dated.
By    March 13, 2015


Will Hagle is slammin’ some gnocchi

Roga Raph only started rapping when he realized he was better than the amateurs that were using his beats. He started as a producer churning out solid, sample-based beats with East Coast simplicity. Soul and jazz tracks flipped beneath up-tempo drums. You know the sub-genre.

Visionary Shift is Roga Raph’s first full-length project and he raps like he produces, with intentional old-school flair. He’s well aware of the nostalgia-trap that many rappers of his ilk fall into. In the middle of “Destiny,” he goes through the process of figuring out how to respond to someone who, out of the blue, asks him to describe his style. His first thought is “A little old, a little new, I don’t know.” After mulling it over some more, he comes to the conclusion that no idea is original. That’s the most respectable justification any modern New York rapper has given for making this type of music — or at least a good Nas quotable.

The majority of Roga Raph’s lyrics are delivered from a similarly self-aware, analytical perspective. Not all of them land, but there are thought-provoking lines littered throughout. “Signz,” a song about opening your mind, ends with a discussion about how our only connection to the outside world comes from the image that’s created after light sends an electrical impulse to our brain: “Cuz we sort of do live with our heads, true?”

There’s a more lighthearted, nostalgic discussion going on at the end of “Lot to Learn,” but the beat cuts out just as a pitch-shifted voice says “Sometimes you torture yourself with the pain, hold on to it, when really you should just deal with the pain anyways.” In the context of that song’s outro, those words refer to someone (presumably Raph) realizing that they were the cause of a traumatic breakup in their youth. But they also speak to Visionary Shift as a whole. It’s a personal album, the first opportunity for an artist to present his whole self. The first words spoken on the album are “It’s time I express my feelings and stop trying to hide.”

Expressing feelings eloquently is difficult for anyone. There have always been talented hybrids, but a producer-turned-rapper is always really a producer at heart. Raph explicitly states that he is, first and foremost, a beathead. He just couldn’t find someone to flow. He’ll always be a producer; he just happens to be the best rapper he knows.

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