It’s been more than half a decade since a rapper popped off nationally from Chicago, one of the country’s largest cities. The last ones to experience that breakthrough, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West, have proven to be two of the genres most artistically forward thinking and successful rappers in the time since. With the release of his latest mixtape, Driving 88, Windy City native Rockie Fresh looks position himself to carry on tradition, as he offers up the first project since the buzz on his name began to swell outside of the Chi.
From it’s first song (“Into The Future”) to it’s last (“So Long”), the project has a smooth energy, and Rockie’s effortless flow proves to compliment the soundscape throughout. The tape’s vibe is often calming, and consistently melodic, as the newbie builds his story by placing slick rhymes around tales of striving to make it, ducking haters, chasing women and leaving school.
“You A Lie” creatively samples 2 Chainz’s voice for one of the more amped anthems on the release, as Rockie boasts about the flame on his name. He also switches up the tempo of his flow here, proving there can be some versatility in his easy-sounding approach when he decides the time is right. “No Fear” is another highlight, as the 20-year-old buries his doubts over a dark, piano driven beat (“Your rules are irrelevant, I’ma just do what I choose/From the City of Wind, means that I’ll never lose,” he raps). There are only three rap features on the tape, but Rockie’s sonic partnership with each artist (Casey Veggies, King Louie and Phil Ade) is both complimentary on the track and reflective of a solidarity he’s forged with fellow up and comers.
What happens next for Rockie Fresh—a major label deal, a co-sign from a fellow Chicago native, or continuing to do things on his own—remains to be seen. But with Driving 88, it’s clear that the young rapper has the hunger, determination and ear to find his own space. And while he does, just enjoy the ride. —Adam Fleischer