Riff Raff – Neon Icon
Record Label: Mad Decent
Release Date: June 24, 2014
The first time someone is exposed to Riff Raff, they usually have the same question that pretty much everybody else does: “Is this guy serious?” After years of generating buzz on the internet, there's still no widely agreed upon answer. Hailing from Houston, Texas, Riff Raff, born Horst Simco, embodies a completely erratic and goofy personality, which he lays on pretty thick in his music. He's pretty much a combination of all of hip-hop's modern day oddball personalities wrapped into one, donning his dreads, lavish jewelery, and exuberant clothing in a way that makes you think he's simply playing a character. This analysis seems to be the most acceptable: a guy who is taking his non-serious character pretty seriously.
After a couple of years and more delays than I can care to remember, Riff Raff's much awaited Mad Decent debut is here. From the start, Neon Icon asks you to leave your seriousness and skepticism at the door. “Introducing The Icon” starts out with a skit that sounds like it would fit in one of his Vines (something he's arguably more famous for at this point than his rapping) before he goes over a beat that sounds like a 2014 version of “Jump Around.” Riff Raff's flow is clumsy, but he comes at it with the exuberance of a kid that just learned how to string words together. Despite how absolutely ridiculous his lyrics can be, you can't help but smile and get sucked into the whole thing.
Neon Icon is a surprisingly diverse record for an artist that seems so incredibly one dimensional on paper. “Kokayne” is a borderline punk rock beat provided by Diplo, and the sentiment “We were up all night on Cocaine” rings true to the mood of the track. At one point last year, Riff was talking about making a country record, and “Time” sounds like what you would expect a country song by Riff Raff to sound like: a novelty to smile at once and never listen to again. He also isn't afraid to try out classic styles of hip-hop, with the trip-hoppy, laid back “Cool It Down,” which features Dirty Projector's Amber Coffman, providing us with a late album highlight. His experiments dont always go over well, however, and things get pretty ugly on the final track, “VIP Pass To My Heart,” where Riff Raff sounds like he's doing a really bad Daft Punk or Owl City impression (or both).
The rest of the album is filled with a lot of styles that are par the course for hip-hop albums coming out these days, and these are the moments where the thrill of Riff Raff's character comes across best. “Wetter Than Tsunami” and “Tip Toe Wing In My Jawwdinz” are trunk rattling trap anthems that Riff Raff can sound rather silly going over, but since it's pulled off so well it becomes part of the appeal. The lyrics, again, are mostly outrageous, but at this point that's what you expect from Riff Raff so they often end up not becoming so outrageous after all. Still, there are plenty of quotable lines (which I'll leave for you to find yourself) even if the “Rap game _____” shtick has become incredibly stale. Elsewhere, collaborations with Childish Gambino (“Lava Glaciers”), Mac Miller (“Aquaberry Dolphin), and the current in-producer DJ Mustard (“How to Be the Man”) show that Riff Raff has what it takes to run with some of today's hottest names.
Unfortunately, there's an air of “too little too late” throughout most of Neon Icon. Riff Raff's big break as a rapper arguably came in 2012, and it was around that time he was releasing songs like “Bird on a Wire” that made a real argument for him becoming a legitimate rap artist. Neon Icon doesn't negate this by any means. A case is still made for Riff Raff as an artist as there are plenty of moments that speak directly to both Riff Raff's strengths and his appeal. But after two years of waiting, the best thing that can be said about the album is that it's slightly better than what was expected, which wasn't all that much to begin with.