Mark my words: I don’t need acceptance. I’m catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.
In a musical climate increasingly concerned with authenticity, a RiFF RAFF was inevitable. People who dislike RAFF tend to dismiss him outright, which, if you’re into judging books by their covers, is pretty fucking easy. Silken hair wrapped in neon hued MC Escher braids, ridiculous clothes, an MTV tat on his neck, white. He looks like a police sketch artist’s approximation of an appropriating hypebeast. Actually listening to his music just makes him harder for purists to take seriously. With his materialistic, interchangeable freestyles, absurdist boasts, and odd, crudely Dadaist song structures, on wax RAFF is like a Das Racist Trapper Keeper given animate life, dumbed down from their political subject matter, an after school ice cream party to their collegiate smoke session.
When people ask me why I like RiFF so much, I just show them this video:
He’s goofy and it’s hard to tell what is real and what is shtick, but we live in a world where pretty much everyone in music has a shtick. The relative value of making that shtick stick to some dogmatic obsession with being “real” dwindles on a daily basis. If you’re going to have some crafted media persona, why let the confines of said persona be so narrow, so limiting?
If we’re going to talk about RiFF, we have to talk about Lil B, the boundless font of based positivity through which all things are possible. The Based God’s mere existence in today’s hip hop landscape altered things forever, tearing a hole in reality big enough for someone like RiFF to escape. That’s what Neon iCON is about, really: escaping. Some may say there’s no place in hip hop for a weird white dude whose entire aesthetic is “90s Buzzfeed Nostalgia Article Brought To Life With The Wish Of A Child” but at its core, rap has always been a genre about escaping your surroundings through the magic of the spoken word. Well, that’s what RiFF does! He’s like the Mister Miracle to Lil B’s benevolent Highfather. (Which, troublingly, through RiFF’s former association with SODMG, makes Soulja Boy Darkseid?)
His debut on Diplo’s Mad Decent, pushed back multiple times, is the fully realized product of the world RiFF RAFF has been building for years through freestyles, ridiculous tweets and hilarious vines. A suitably neon adult recreation of the dreams of his youth, blazingly bright colors, expensive clothes/cars/jewelery, and a boundless sense of optimism. The opening track, “Introducing The Icon,” is the best first song on an album this year since Future opened Honest with “Look Ahead.” It almost feels like RiFF poking fun at his haters. Why else open an album as strange and goofy as this one with a rap song you could do the A Tribe Called Quest “Scenario” group mob dance to?
You may not think RiFF can really rap, but no one else stitches such disparate and rambling thoughts together the way he does. His rhymes are like a child’s Christmas list, chunkily scrawled in magenta crayon, then interpreted by a couch-surfing stoner, ranting to himself while rummaging through your cupboards for Birthday Cake Pop Tarts.
One of the album’s standout cuts is his collaboration with Childish Gambino, from producer Harry Fraud, a smooth, grooving thing of beauty with lyrical gems like this one:
Ate the pork chop sandwich with the tartar sauce
In the packet that I found in my purple Prada pocket protector
Label head Diplo, Deezus, and DJA handle the lion’s share of the album’s production, crafting some left field sounds to back up RiFF’s absurdist extravagance, like the surf guitar on “Kokayne” that sounds like Queens of The Stone Age doing the theme song for a Saturday morning cartoon from the future. Ubiquitous hitmaker DJ Mustard provides the club-ready single “How To Be The Man,” which gets outclassed by the the album’s stronger outings, but proves RiFF RAFF’s versatility, equally at home riding radio trends backwards as he is living in his own little zone, like on the dreamy, video gamey love song “VIP Pass To My Heart.”
The faux country track “Time” is decidedly NOT a favorite of mine but I like that it made the cut. Ditto the “Maybe You Love Me” featuring Mike Posner, which doesn’t quite do it for me, but is still more fun than similar songs out there by virtue of RiFF’s endearing presence.
Also, I could do without the skits. Any of them, really, but like Van Jazmin’s amazing art in the liner notes, it’s all in service of some fun world building. There’s a leaner, meaner album that could be cut from Neon iCON, something that could be a classic and a deft right hook to the naysayers, but he’s more content to luxuriate in the pastel painted kingdom he’s created and, honestly, I’m more than happy to do that with him.
On “Cool It Down” (featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors channeling “Show Me Love”-era Robyn on the hook), we get a glimpse of perhaps the “real” RiFF:
Yeah, glacier berry watch, got time froze
I done, I done shook dice with Pete Rose
Crew cut, top peeled back like a nice orange
I used to shoot jumpers with precise form
They wanna tell you what you can’t do based on formal facts
If I wanted to hear that bullshit I’d be in history class
If I’d have been around you five minutes I’d need a six pack
If I would’ve listened to your bitch ass I wouldn’t be Riff Raff
That little vignette/meta commentary on his career proves my point. Being “RiFF RAFF” is about rejecting the loathesome strictures of the real world, of expectations, of “h8rz.” I need RiFF RAFF because his music feels like a vision board come to life, and someone covered that board in colorful cars, shiny baubles, cotton candy and hugs. That, and because “Versace Python” is the best song of the year and everyone else should just give up.
I’ll leave you with the (oddly superior) early version of the song that’s really just a video of RAFF singing along to the song while doing cocaine with a snake.
Neon iCON is available now online and physically in stores.