Son Raw isn’t looking at the charts.
It’s hard to sum up rap in 2017, not when it’s vast enough to include everything from emo rock teenagers and boom bap dinosaurs to drug dealers peddling authenticity to surrealists prizing imagination. And yet Croydon’s Rocks Foe seems determined to beat every single one of his contemporaries at their own game. Rocks first grabbed my attention when his Legion EP marked the rapper as grime’s ultimate outsider at the end of 2015, but this new project, Fight the Good? Fight, points to much greater ambitions than dominating an already narrowly defined scene. Instead, the album synthesizes the best of what’s going on in emcee based grime right now—UK/US and beyond.
Most satisfyingly, it feels like a natural evolution rather than a calculated attempted to capitalize on what’s hot. Rocks’ debut already merged grime, boom bap, metal and gothic undertones—it just so happens that contemporary hip hop has caught up to his tastes just as his next project was ready. Granted, there are direct precedents to his sound: Kendrick’s high speed introspection, Kanye’s Yeezus-era abrasion, Danny Brown’s hip-hop/grime fusion, but those touch points are outweighed by his unique voice, which already felt fully formed at the outset and only benefits from this album’s longer run time.
Besides, there’s no obvious reference points elsewhere when “Downpour’s” outro dips into a Brazilian rare groove or “Rollin’” goes for classic chipmunk soul about the value of family, underpinned by an absolute growler of a bassline.
First single “Nitty Gritty” is the obvious starting point, complete with rockstar video, but it’s only a sliver of what’s lurking in the album’s tracks, which dive into far headier concerns than the turn up that constitute most contemporary grime’s bread and butter. The political and the personal all get airtime, and there’s more than a few 90 BPM headbangers for anyone fiending for bars as well. Ultimately, I’ll be diving into Fight the Good? Fight for quite a while longer, but it’s already safe to say that this is the most interesting grime album to drop in a long, long time, if you can even call it grime.