It’s fitting that Riff Raff opens his debut album, Neon Icon, in the character of a Spring Breakers-sounding bro. “The Neon Icon album, it finally came out today bro.” Finally. From 2012 to 2014, Riff Raff recorded over 100 songs for the album, had numerous push backs, and didn’t receive a traditional roll-out, if any.
On the opening track, “Introducing the Neon,” Riff Raff lets us know what he thinks of himself, and what he’s attempting to project: “I’m the white Gucci Mane with a spray tan.” He also compares himself to athletes Allen Iverson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Quentin Richardson, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, songtress Alicia Keys, and comedians Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy. He not only acts as if, but raps about it too.
“Skin color the same as French toastie.”
Perplexingly, however, he also taps Johnny Quest, Michael Bolton, Dolly Parton. The Gucci Mane parallel though, was the most poignant. Gucci Mane is the forbearer of southern trap, and an obvious influence to Riff Raff. Yet Riff Raff’s interpretation of himself as Gucci Mane is so extreme that it almost feels like he’s making a mockery of the South’s hip-hop culture by packaging hyperbole.
Riff Raff’s topics are shuffled through, but they remain constant: tropical colors (“lime benz,” “panda piss” “candy coated,” “apple gloss,” “banana berry”), Porsches, Benzs, a “four door mango Lexus,” (“I can’t drive a Honda” was a very honest bar), and lots of lean. He keeps up his Versace gag, claiming to own Versace glocks, rafts, rims, jeans, rain drops, wife beaters, and sleeping bags. “Purple Prada pocket protector” and “candy coated helicopter” made us rethink the idea of alliteration.
Not stopping there, Riff Raff brings us into his domain: “Tears fall from the castles around my heart/Every time I open my mouth, history/Candle wax melts, in my fortress,” he actually raps. Even the Neon Icon can be sad. There are mentions of mermaids, baby penguins, frozen rainbows, and Cheerios in there too.
Clearly, Riff Raff has no shortage of strong hyperbole raps that have been tailored for 140 character max text boxes. His jabs are short and impactful. He uses bizarre and blunt language at a random pace. There’s no real plan to his verses or songs really—it’s all a stream of consciousness and there’s very little obvious logic connecting one bar to the next.
The album is executive produced by Diplo, and it comes off as a Diplo-curated playlist of two years of Riff Raff recordings. Neon Icon is well produced, which should be a given considering the 100-track vault it was assembled from. There’s a real smattering of record types—“Time” is an odd country song, “VIP Pass to My Heart” is some fluffy Daft Punk instrumental, DJ Mustard makes a shaking appearance, and Diplo even produces some real rock.
The final Neon Icon product is merely 15 songs picked in the hope of just one catching some crossover play. There are many opportunities on this album for that. But on the whole, it’s completely incohesive and difficult to listen to. In some ways, Neon Icon is a sunk cost album after delays and the sheer amount of material recorded. It pans out as—at the very least—a unique and varied production that asks to be received seriously, even if Riff Raff’s choppy, uneasy flow and absurdist imagery runs counter to that.—Justin Block