Wednesday, June 29, 2016

album review: 'peach panther' by riff raff

Okay, originally I was expecting this weekend to be a lot worse in terms of releases. I think I mentioned it on Billboard BREAKDOWN that there were also new albums from Rae Sremmurd and Iggy Azalea, which promised to be two records of continuous migraine, but since their lead-off singles have flopped, they've both delayed into later in the summer. And this leaves us with only the most courageous hip-hop artist to drop a record this past weekend... and I can't even finish that sentence.

Hell, I don't even know why I'm reviewing this. In the pantheon of joke rappers, I don't tend to have a lot of respect for Riff Raff, who basically has one joke in being an over-the-top caricature/parody of modern hip-hop, which becomes less of a joke when you realize that most of modern hip-hop is already there! And let's be honest, thanks to the Internet we've got no short supply of rappers who have better bars, production, and jokes than Riff Raff does, from The Lonely Island to Epic Rap Battles. That is unless you're taking Riff Raff seriously in a Lil B vein, but if we're going by 'so weird/bad it's good', Riff Raff isn't that far away from conventional hip-hop that I can use that excuse. As to whether Riff Raff takes himself seriously... well, there's a part of me that thinks he does with zero self-awareness and that's more sad than anything, but at the end of the day the music has to deliver, and it rarely does.

So why talk about this? Well, call it morbid curiosity more than anything. Somehow Riff Raff keeps getting guest stars that you wouldn't expect a rapper of his status to bring on, and I do hold that when it comes to stupid-as-hell bangers 'Kokayne' is ridiculously fun. In other words, even if he's on the edge of pop culture, he keeps popping up. So I figured what the hell and I checked out Peach Panther - was it any good?

To be blunt, absolutely not. In fact, I'd go further and say that Peach Panther is actually a step back from Neon Icon, and Riff Raff didn't have much room to regress anyway. So let's get this out of the way, this album is absolutely lousy and the only reason it's not getting a lower rating is because it's too tedious and incoherent to actually be worth hating. I've covered worse records, but this is easily in the running for one of the worst albums of 2016, and now I understand why it seems like I've gotten a lot less requests to cover this record!

Now undoubtedly that'll piss off the few people who are actually fans of this guy, so let me restate from Neon Icon that there's really two ways to enjoy Riff Raff: either take it seriously and judge it as a hip-hop record - which more than ever I get the impression Riff Raff would want us to do - or judge it ironically as an over-the-top parody. And let's start with the latter option and thus consider what Riff Raff is saying with his one joke, that he's so much more gaudy and insanely over-the-top than anyone else in the hip-hop game... but here's the thing, it's not like anything he's saying here is that much more ridiculous or silly or even extravagant than his contemporaries. Say what you will about Neon Icon, but at least it wasn't afraid to get a little more bizarre, but Riff Raff's references feel oddly mundane, or cheap shots at celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner or Bill Cosby that already feel dated. There are a few cute lines - a Versace waterski, sleeping next to an AR-15, the string of mostly connected basketball references on 'Chris Paul' that screams like an attempt to recreate 'White Iverson' by Post Malone, that one odd line he repeats about sitting on 'butter' which I'm inclined to take literally, and, of course, picking up his girl from Olive Garden - but overall this record starts repeating itself in a hurry, especially about his newfound affection for codeine. And I'll be blunt and say that if he swapped coke for dirty sprite, it was the wrong move, because midway through this album we get 'Syrup Sippin Assassin' where the only line is how he drinks so much codeine he's going to fall asleep - cool, I guess. But then you have lines about homeschooling his kids so they can become professional Snapchatters, or how his parties are like a quinceanera - a fifteen year old girl's party - or how he only made four million last year, or how he goes into women's bathroom stalls, and I start wondering how on earth anyone can like this. And it doesn't help that the only guest star who can remotely work well with Riff Raff is Danny Brown, who drops the best verse on the album on 'I Drive By' by at least having some kooky, but well-structured bars. The other guest stars... Lil Durk does his best Young Thug impression and is less interesting, King Chip does his Sage The Gemini impression and it's actually not bad on 'Shout Out To The Bay', Problem actually seems to take shots at Riff Raff before saying he's so clean it's like his clothes are made of Dove, and G-Eazy is far too boring of a rapper to being anywhere close to a Riff Raff song. 

But by now you're probably seeing part of the problem: for the most part, Riff Raff isn't really doing anything all that unique or interesting with his content, or even all that weird or funny, so his parody seems a lot less funny. But okay, let's take him seriously then, how does he measure up? BADLY - he's always been inconsistent as a technical MC and a lousy singer, but whoever told him trying to mimick the modern era of autotuned melodic MCs was a good idea was wrong, even if it's only on occasion. And yet even without that, I really started to despise his braying delivery, or his utterly flaccid singing on tracks like 'Betcha Didn't Know' - and yes, Riff Raff, you spent the entire record talking about it, of course we know by now. What I didn't expect was how many points he just seemed to slip off the beat or tried to cram too many words into a bar like Big Sean does at his worst, and it's just as bad here.

But fine, it's supposed to be ignorant stupid hip-hop even at its best, if the beats are good it shouldn't matter, right? Well, here's where I have a bit more faint praise for Neon Icon - at least the production occasionally got interesting! This album might be more cohesive but it's one of the shining examples of where that's not a good thing, because nearly every production on this record is minimalist, filled with desaturated minor keys, and some astoundingly cheap trap percussion. None of the beats blend well with the melodies, and while we can occasionally get a bit of gloss or groove on 'Shout Out To The Bay' or the slightly better blended 'I Drive By', at worst we get the gooey four note synth on '4 Million' or that faint squeal within the title track freestyle or worst of all that broke music box rattle on 'I Don't Like To Think', which might feature one of the most obnoxious hooks I've heard all year! But the much larger issue comes in the melodic composition, and it's why so much of the joke of this album doesn't land: when your keys are all chilly, minor progressions, it's not close to fun and only further hurts any humourous intentions!

So in the end... wow, I did not like this, and yet I can already hear defenders saying that Riff Raff is going back to his trap roots and it's not supposed to be smart or structured or be anything beyond ignorant trash for the clubs. And that may be so, but there's still a scale of quality to this sort of thing, and especially in the production Riff Raff is treading near the bottom. But even if you're considering this ironically... I can't even say this falls towards the so-bad/weird-it's-good camp because the content, delivery, and vibe has only gotten more stale and cheap. For me, this is a light 3/10 and no way in hell I'm recommending this. Folks, even if you're looking for stupid bangers you can do better than Riff Raff - hell, after this, even Riff Raff can do better than Riff Raff, and if he wants to keep making four million a year, he better hope his audience doesn't catch onto that.

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