Friday, August 31, 2012

Riff Raff: Making Sense of the Human Meme

You might remember a short lived show on MTV called “From G’s to Gents”. It featured a number of young men seeking to reform their umm... “urban idiosyncrasies” and become proper gentlemen. The show only lasted two seasons and didn’t prompt any spinoff’s. In fact, I’m pretty sure the show’s host, Fonzworth Bentley, went back to holding Diddy’s umbrella to pay off his Howard student loans (I’m not entirely sure he went to Howard or if that joke is racist). However, someone did emerge from this reality show a star in his own right.

Riff Raff, hailing from Houston, Texas was eliminated by the 2nd episode of season 2. But that’s all he needed. This was the perfect amount of fame needed to springboard his career. However, Riff Raff possessed a marketable “skill," unlike many reality stars who try to make a lifelong career out of what should only amount in short term fame.

It was not Riff Raff’s rapping ability which kept him relevant after his brief stint on MTV. To be completely honest, he’s rarely consistent with his verses, at times meandering through tracks like a drunk ESL student.  

Riff Raff has made some waves in the music world in the past through his attempts to stay relevant.

First, he adopted his own brand of SEO. By adding “MTV” to his Youtube handle (MTVRiFFRaFF) his videos would appear in the sidebar in all of MTV’s official videos. After some of his music videos and home movies began surpassing MTV’s videos in search results, they threatened to sue and he took the tag off his username. He added SODMG (which I can’t be bothered to care with this stands for) to his Youtube and Twitter handles after reportedly signing a deal with Soulja Boy’s label. But, the deal fell through, or maybe never even existed at all. That’s the way Riff Raff rolls. He deals in deception.

More recently, he signed a 7 album deal with Mad Decent. According to some sources, which might just be Riff Raff himself, the deal was apparently worth seven figures. All parties involved, including label owner Diplo, are keeping quiet on the exact terms of the contract.

I almost forgot to mention that James Franco is playing a character largely based on Riff Raff in Harmony Korine’s new movie Spring Breakers. There are several reasons why I will be seeing this movie.

Arguably the most important trait when trying to dissect Riff Raff is his insane sense of self-awareness. Riff represents everything that was wrong with Hip-Hop by the end of the Noughties, when artists like Soulja Boy, Nelly and the Ying Yang Twins have rose and fell from fame after they had become parodies of themselves and the genre as a whole; and he knows this. Riff Raff’s rhymes hail us back to a time when braggadocio surrounding one’s wealth, whether is was truth or fiction, was commonplace in both underground and commercial rap. But, Rapping about your garage full of cars and the price of your chain is no longer en vogue in the current hip hop and economic climate.

As the underground took a turn towards the harrowing and soulful, Riff trudged through, not paying any attention to the trends adopted by his contemporaries, staying “true” to himself -- or the version of himself he created: a point debated later -- authentically inauthentic. It is this commitment to his character...for lack of a better word, which has led some to label Riff Raff as a “performance artist," rather than believe that a human like this can actually exist and accept the decline of western civilization as a whole. The idea that Riff Raff is an innovation from the mind of a pretty clever hip hop fan from Houston seeking to point out the udder fucking ridiculousness of other white southern rappers isn’t that farfetched. I think the general consensus among fans is that Riff is more of a one man Spinal Tap.

Much like the Rock and Roll invention of Rob Reiner, Riff Raff’s music is at times infectious and catchy (Riff , Tap). It’s also seems like a pretty clear parody of everything that critics use to rail against the genre as a whole during a particular period. However, at the end of the day Nigel Trufnel takes off his wig and spandex pants, puts on his pajamas, and goes to bed Christopher Guest.

But Riff Raff doesn’t sleep.

Or wear pajamas. 

End rant.

Riff Raff’s debut mixtape Birth of an Icon is probably not  what you might expect after reading the description of him above. Despite some of his flaws as an MC/human being, he takes his craft seriously, and there are many points on this mixtape where that shines through. Sometimes he tries to take himself too seriously or goes out on a limb, fails, but comes right back with something you can bounce to.

The mixtape starts of with the Caspa produced slow jam “Jody Highroller”, named after his soulful after ego/twitter handle/actual name. The feel of this track is in stark contrast to most of Riff’s other previously released jams, but not the last time he explores his softer side on this mixtape. There’s also “Lil Mama”, “Don’t Wait” and “Only I Can Cure Your Broken Heart” where Jody croons about some of his lost loves. The tracks are both listenable and help round out the  “emotional spectrum” of the mixtape, something that Riff wants to remind everyone that he has, but there’s really nothing spectacular about them.

The other standout track on this mixtape - if only for how different it is - “Time” is Riff Raff’s chance to right the wrongs he committed on his way to the top (which is actually somewhere towards the middle, but hey, a false sense of self importance never killed anyone). This weird attempt at trying to get deep comes off as very insincere and contrived, even for a guy who still wears fronts. Also, the fact that its uses a Plain White T’s sample doesn’t help.

But if you’re willing to get on board with Riff Raff and his image, which includes his flow that can be kept up with at times he dances around the beat, there is a lot of fun to be had with this mixtape. “Jose Canseco”, “Rap Game King Tut” and “Terror Wrist” probably best sum up what I mean, and also give you the best idea Riff’s overall style. There’s a bunch of clever rhymes about ice and cars, as well as some catchy as hell hooks.

Where this mixtape really peaks for me is on all the collaborative tracks. There’s “Bird on A Wire” with Bronx based MC Action Bronson, which I would label as one of the overall strongest tracks on the album. It’s noticeably a bit smoother than some of the other songs and Bronson’s deep outer borough accent and the flavor that comes along with it makes a nice contrast to Riff’s higher pitched voice and slightly noticeable southern drawl and diction.

As far as collabs go, there’s also “Cuz My Gear” with the Chicago rapper Chief Keef which blows “Brain Freeze”, with White Girl Mob/Female MC’s Who are Not Nearly as Talented as They are Cute Mob member Lil Debbie, out of the water.

So, my advice is this: Pick up this mixtape and have fun with it. Keep bumping the songs you like and don’t give a second chance to the ones you can’t get into. Don’t worry, you’re not going to miss anything. There’s really not much to be gained by a second critical listen to Birth of an Icon. There’s nothing deeper hiding beneath the surface of any of these tracks.

But I don’t know if I can say the same for Riff Raff.

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