The phrase “blame the label” has plagued the rap game for years but when an artist like Chief Keef tosses out a quality project (without his label’s knowledge), once every four drops, the label isn’t the only one deserving of blame. On the opposite end of the “label “got me fucked up” debate is Jeremih, whose Def Jam label failed to capitalize on his steady streak of hits, choosing instead to release his long-overdue Late Nights album for the absurd price of $18.99 in an obvious attempt to recoup its losses. Don’t forget about Chicago’s Rockie Fresh, who hadn’t released a solo project in three years before dropping the 13-track genesis of his The Night I Went To… trilogy back in January. Even though his MMG boss, Rick Ross, left Atlantic Records to sign with Epic Records, there aren’t any signs of label drama for the Driving 88 MC. A lengthy tour, a lost loved-one and recent installments, The Night I Went To… New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, explain where Rockie’s been but also, where he’s heading as both a person and an artist.
Rockie addresses his recent absence on TNIWT…New York’s second track, “Too Long,” “It’s been a while since I been on tour, and where I really been you really wasn’t too sure / I lost my auntie and I ain’t want the fame no more, and niggas lying, talking ’bout how he ain’t signed no more.” It’s almost impossible not to root for an artist with Rockie’s underdog disposition. Make no mistake about it though; the dude can rap. His flow is nimble enough to tackle Sak Pase’s gleaming production on the introspective “Thank You” featuring Rozay and smooth enough to float on the watery synths of Mike Daley and Mitchell Owen’s “Aurora.” On the Los Angeles tape’s “All I Want,” produced by Hit-Boy, Rockie meshes a polished flow with a catchy hook that captures the West Coast energy with ease. The LA tape also boasts a remix of TNIWT standout, “Your Life,” as Rockie and Inglewood’s own, Casey Veggies, channel their Fresh Veggies days on a Zalezy beat that rides better than its dance ready original.
The criminally short, “All You Interlude” is the attention grabbing moment of the New York tape. It takes a few notes for Rockie’s slightly Auto-Tuned vocals to settle in, but once they do, he’s laughing on the song’s outro because even he knows, he just showed out. If this is the result of a night spent in the Big Apple, he and Chris Batson’s soul loops are definitely onto something. Speaking of soul, BJ the Chicago Kid stops by for a fitting assist on the hook of the acoustic-driven “Stars and Lights,” to make it the strongest cut on his hometown EP. Rockie’s singing ability is certainly the most intriguing part of the Chicago tape. His 2013 Birthday Tape tended to rely on Auto-Tune a little too much but on the fourth track “Never Do,” the faint trace of it works in his favor and ultimately makes for a smoother listen.
Some folks will probably be frustrated by the fact that seven of the thirteen tracks on the three tapes were previously released or that most of the new songs don’t run longer than two minutes, but keep in mind: Rockie has dropped four tapes in four months. The Night I Went To… New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are refreshing reminders that quality doesn’t have to be sacrificed in an era where dropping multiple projects in a calendar year is the industry standard. Previously released songs land on each tape to commemorate recent tour stops but there’s a bigger strategy behind it all. Each mini-tape adds to the prologue of a book that could be Rockie Fresh’s long-awaited debut album.