Sir Michael Rocks - Lap of Lux
One Off Ent.: 2012
Let’s examine the term “hipster rap” for a second. Rewind to 2001. New York gangsta rap is on the Billboard Hot 100 and there are worrying parents, rock fans, and critics alike. Such alien subject matter is still a taboo to many music fans outside of hip-hop; adventurous college students, over-opinionated teens, and aging rock critics still cringe a little when they hear 50 Cent lear, “You that faggot ass nigga trying to pull me back right?” At the time it looked like a moral issue: the music was simply disgusting. The rap mainstream was for the radio, not the serious music listener.
Fast forward to 2006. Thousands of 20 year-old white guys crowd around to see Pusha T and Malice rap about how great they are at taking advantage of self-destructive addicts. The Clipse/Dipset/Kanye axis excites the world of music criticism as pillars of the serious, the avant-garde, and the self-aware. It turns out that our aversion to the mainstream had a lot more to do with intellectual snobbery than morality. When a rapper seemed to show some amount of artistic distance from their subject matter, then the light was green. If he did it with artistry that fit into mold of rock criticism, all the better.
What was once labeled “Hipster Rap” was music seen as pandering to critics because of its implied separation. The Cool Kids, in their 15 minutes of fame, maintained this separation almost entirely through their attitude. Even their name itself is a double entendre, spoken with a smirk: half serious, half kidding.
What’s striking about Mikey Rocks’s new mixtape Lap of Lux is that the smirk has been almost entirely wiped from his face. The tape’s tone exhibits very little of The Cool Kids’ giggly pretense or vague ‘80s vibe. One can see both costs and benefits to this. For me, the original draw of The Cool Kids was to see high minded rappers that weren’t focused on lyricism. They aimed to make catchy songs and they often did. On Lap of Lux, you get to see Mikey’s talent come into full view: hooks and rewind lines are relatively frequent. His sound seems to be hit oriented, one part Chicago, one part Atlanta. It’s a mix of the drill scene with Travis-Porter-style strip music.
With that said, Mike has little personality left of his own. Without irony doing the heavy lifting, his rapping turns out to be composed of the most generic content possible: he mentions his Margiela sneakers at least three times, seemingly not able to come up with an alternative brand name to drop. While some of his lines may be well placed musically, it doesn’t overshadow the sheer boredom of the rest. Being a particularly well-made generic tape only serves to show us that attitude is almost always more important than craft.