If you’ve ever caught yourself looking quizzically at Riff Raff, wondering if the guy is for real, you certainly aren’t the only one. Noted for his Allen Iverson braids, zigzag facial hair and abundant amount of tattoos, it goes without saying that the Houston native is one of the rap world’s most unique entertainers. Much like fellow internet hip-hop sensation Lil B, Riff Raff built his career atop a steady social media following that was kickstarted by a short stint on reality television. A certain unknown surrounding his music—whether or not he expects to be taken seriously—has upset many hip-hop music purists since his arrival in public consciousness. The man has at last delivered his major label debut Neon Icon after numerous delays—it doesn’t seem to be a body of work that will put a decisive end to this debate anytime soon.
Though many are often divided by them, the humorous qualities of Riff Raff’s music are by no means omitted. One doesn’t have to look much farther than song titles such as “Wetter than Tsunami” and “Aquaberry Dolphin” to find evidence of the artist’s funny bone—and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s only mere moments into the listen that he dubs himself the “white Gucci Mane with a spray tan” before rhyming about a four-door mango Lexus, name dropping Dolly Parton, Allen Iverson, Eddie Murphy, and owning everything Versace (as if Migos didn’t seem to drill the brand into our ears enough). The opener “Introducing the Icon” is a’90s hip-hop smash full of these laughable lyrics, along with the aforementioned “Wetter…”, “Aquaberry…”, “Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz” and the DJ Mustard-produced “How To Be The Man”. It’s on these southern-flavored instrumentals where Riff Raff delivers some of his better material. But even in this all-Versace world he has created, it seems he only wants to take his tried-and-true formula so far.
Outside of the limited trap fare, many of the unpredictable moments of genre-blending are questionable at best. Straightforward rocker “Kokayne” drives the party atmosphere with a dead simple guitar riff, while “Maybe You Love Me” stands as something that could take a serious run at any mainstream pop radio playlist. Giving a tip of the cowboy hat to his native state, “Time” tries its best to masquerade as a sincere country tune chronicling the changes in Riff Raff’s life thanks to rap music, yet still forces the listener to wonder if it’s supposed to be a serious or silly moment through its cheap chorus [‘Cause time goes by / It goes on /And it don’t stop].
It wouldn’t be a Mad Decent record without electronic music, and Neon Icon offers up a fairly weak attempt with the incredibly bland “VIP Pass To My Heart”—perhaps the result of some heavy-handed influence of label boss Diplo coming into play. If humor is what Raff’s aiming to convey, the jokes have worn quite thin. But on the other hand, the idea of any sort of seriousness seems insincere altogether.
Regardless of how you choose to interpret Riff Raff and his larger-than-life persona, more of the lyrically absurd trap-rap that brought him notoriety would have better suited Neon Icon where so much of the genre-hopping falls short. But perhaps it’s all part of his odd approach to the genre: keep those who gawk at his outlandish character guessing. If there’s one thing Riff Raff excels at, it’s just that.
2.5 out of 5
You can purchase Neon Icon on Amazon.