Published on June 29th, 2014 | by Dave Scaddan3
Riff Raff – Neon Icon
In Spring Breakers, James Franco’s character was based on Houston white trash rapper Riff Raff. Dave Scaddan looks at Riff Raff’s new album, Neon Icon.
Riff Raff has it made coming and going. If he’s a poseur making fun of hip hop, then his parody is hilarious. If he’s genuine, then he’s a captivating character. Riff Raff gets his cake and eats it. Riff Raff is a Neon. Icon. And he is everything that is great and terrible about those two words.
Moreso than with most artists, your reaction to Riff Raff will depend a lot on the mood you’re in when you first hear him. If you’re feeling critical and stingy, he will leave you with no shortage of targets to fire your shots at. If you’re in a good mood though, say, at a party or driving or watching videos with your pals, Riff Raff can sound great, like a good-times, party-style hip-hop that gets you smiling, laughing even. Just look at the guy. Wig Wag ‘rows, zig zag beard, Paul Newman eyes, grillz, truck jewels colliding at his waistline, the look is so past garish that it threatens to take on its own blandness, then exceed that blandness to become garish again. And that’s Riff Raff’s music too, that’s ‘Neon Icon’; it’s so rash, brash, primped, pimped, silly, frilly, fun, and phony that it’s effectively the ultimate mood tester. Hear it at the wrong moment and you’re going to hate it and have plenty of good reason to. Take it for what it is and you might come back to it.
Riff Raff’s rhymes are just that and nothing more. They are words that rhyme with other words that he is also saying. Most of those words are nouns, things Riff Raff likes: Animals, foods, shoes, amounts of money, parts of his own body. Some of the words are verbs, things Riff Raff can do (ball, flow, chill, floss, gleam, glide, blow up) and things he won’t do (stop, slip, sit, cook cookies, win Grammys, drive on small rims). Riff Raff wants you to know what he smells like too — or does he? When he says he smells like Miami, and that he smells like Power Rangers (in the same song!) is it an attempt to elucidate or obfuscate? All I know is it’s something I’ve never smelled, personally.
A nod to the production here — Diplo, DJA, and DJ Mustard give Riff a great template for all his personalities and vocal styles. There are hard-banging tracks to pair with Riff’s nasal, seizure-inducing Ritalin raps, as well as some smoother, slow-low jams to pair with Riff’s whisper-pimp delivery. There are also some nice loops with acoustic guitars, giving ‘Neon Icon’ a split personality between gangsta and countrified. It’s easy to see why Riff is an easy guy for people to toss a few great tracks to — he’s not going to clash with them; he can mimic any style — and he’s not going to let anyone ignore what they’re listening to either; he will get your attention. You might not want to fly your flag exclusively with Riff Raff, but he’d be hard to pass on for a single.
Don’t be fooled. Jody Highroller might be dumb, but he ain’t stupid. This guy knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s got an image that’s so immaculately cultivated that James Franco could effortlessly pour himself into it for a few weeks filming Spring Breakers and seem like he’d been living that life fo-eva-eva. Once, when asked if he could defend the use of the N-word by other white rappers he had worked with (a question that would liquify any stupid, white rapper) Riff said, “I would never tell somebody what to do or what to say,” which is a perfect answer, because it makes him look chill in a way that doesn’t make him look bigoted and also points out how stupid the question is. The lesson? Don’t troll a troll.
Riff Raff asks us, how much sense do you need a guy to make? If the answer is, “not much,” Riff Raff can respond with imagery like, “tears fall from the castles around my heart.” If the answer is, “plenty,” Riff Raff’s got a track called ‘Time’ that actually borders on sincere sentimental reflection. Maybe Riff Raff makes no sense at all, and maybe he makes perfect sense in the present moment, not knowing whether to pose with a baby or a puppy, but knowing that he doesn’t have to choose.