Proving the Digital Age’s ability to make a spectacle out of the unorthodox, Riff Raff has been a leading benefactor of this phenomenon. He has snuck his way past skeptics and gatekeepers, and somehow become a ubiquitous figure within Hip Hop’s freak show subculture. Breaking every possible rule and convention, it is difficult to even describe who or what he is no matter how closely one were to examine his routine. Influenced by living in Houston, it is readily apparent he fits Rap’s recent paradigm built around incomprehensible slapstick. With the help of DJ, producer and writer Diplo (whose Mad Decent label takes consistent measures to do away with old time tradition), Riff Raff’s first big release Neon Icon has arrived to the dismay of purist onlookers.
Neon Icon’s title makes perfect sense as Riff Raff’s present legend is surrounded by a self-manufactured, glowing aura. Unlike the comparable antics of Internet sensation Lil B, who is clearly in on the joke, it’s hard to ascertain if Jody Highroller is toying with people, starved for attention or he truly just enjoys rapping. Where most consider their greatest exposure an opportunity to shine, he’s most comfortable goofing off the point of being polarizing. Starting things off on “Introducing The Icon,” likening himself “The white Gucci Mane with a spray tan,” one can only help but wonder why Riff Raff has come to idolize such a flashy and savage jailbird. Without much regard for rhythm or sense, his lavish and empty boasts stand to question: Is this his art imitating life or vice-versa?
While he likely hasn’t pulled influence from Ghostface Killah, Camp Lo or Kool Keith, all of the aforementioned have mastered Riff Raff’s eccentric style with greater finesse and technique. On the playful “Wetter Than Tsunami,” he offers the nonsensical, “Step inside the club and I smell and I smell like Power Ranger.” Making a bit more sense, he gets away with the simplistic, “When I wake up, it’s a mystery / Every time I open my mouth, history” on the ridiculously named “Versace Python.” Though the Childish Gambino featured “Lava Glaciers” knocks thanks to Harry Fraud’s production, it feels like listeners are guinea pigs being tested as Riff Raff toys with the limits of their patience. Previous Quasi-Rap parodies such as Lonely Island or Das Racist, have featured subtle nods as indicators that they are indeed spoofing a particular genre. Riff Raff lacks any such nods.
Never able to be pigeonholed as anything other than strange, Riff Raff takes Neon Icon in a number of unpredictable directions. With the help of Mike Posner, “Maybe You Love Me” stands a chance at hitting Pop radio, and “Kokayne” is a Rock number from the self-ascribed Rap Game Bon Jovi. Refusing to adhere to any limitations, “Time” is Riff’s idea of Country music, and trying his hand at techno on “VIP Pass To My Heart,” he plunges even deeper into his vortex of potential insanity. No matter his ambition, he has been guilty of shtick for so long that it’s hard to take this experimentation as any more than an ongoing prank.
Five years after MTV’s 2009 reality show From G’s To Gents, Riff Raff has arrived to a place no one could have imagined, but what is his purpose exactly? Name dropping everyone from Soul singer Frankie Lymon to David Hasselhoff, Allen Iverson and Anita Baker, Neon Icon seems aimless and not very well thought out. There are occasional hilarious moments; he throws pesos at strippers and refers to himself as “The White Wesley Snipes.” Riff ratchets up the oddity factor and gets creativity points for rhyming over Mac Miller’s sparse piano keys and the sound of a skittering dolphin (“Aquaberry Dolphin”). But on face value, Neon Icon is neither entertaining as sheer parody, nor a passable attempt at making a sincere Hip Hop album when judged by its merits.
Riff Raff maintains a place amongst the modern performance art exhibitions of Shia LaBeouf and Joaquin Phoenix. Equal parts dull and fascinating, you can’t forget his existence if you spend enough time reading current online Hip Hop media, but his final output here best functions as mindless background music. With only DJ Mustard’s contribution, “How To Be The Man” fitting in today’s scene, this album speaks to the troubling notion that anyone outlandish enough can stir up a frenzy. Left without a clear concept of who Riff Raff is (an ambiguous angle he revels in), it’s sad if he’s getting away with committing mockery and more grievous if the bar has been lowered to accept this as his actual character.