We couldn’t make it to SXSW this year, but plenty of our favorite artists went down to the festival, including Chicago’s Rockie Fresh who hustled hard in Austin, performing at Warner and SPIN showcases during last week’s festival. Rockie is young rapper who’s been hanging around the music industry for a few years now, linking up with pop-punkers like Joel Madden and Patrick Stump and making laid-back indie raps. Last year, he moved to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group. While Rockie’s original style had more in common with sneaker-and-skateboard rappers like Lupe Fiasco or The Cool Kids, his newest mixtape, “Electric Highway“, released in January under MMG, channels the emotive R&B-influenced production and sensitive womanizer character of artists like Drake or TyDolla$ign. It’s a welcome change.
Stream: Rockie Fresh – Life Long (Feat. Rick Ross & Nipsey Hussle)
Much of the tape was produced by Chicago beatmaker The Gift, whose beats tend to be relatively light on percussion and bass elements, leaving plenty of space for catchy hooks and big climaxes. It’s a surprisingly pretty tape–from the shimmering guitar samples on “Lights Glow” to the ephemeral melodic phrase that floats about “Thick Bitch (Hit My Jack)” like fat snowflakes in the wind. Several guest producers contributed beats–the soulful string loop on “Hold Me Down” produced by Big Jerm Sayez, the chilling vocal samples on JD Walker produced “Barrel of a Gun“, and a breezy track from Drake collaborator Boi-1da called “Life Long“. There’s an off-center beat from Lunice, “Superman OG“, that could have easily gone an Odd Future tape and a stormy Breakage-sampling track called “Nobody“.
With its pleasing melodies and Rockie’s romantic yet cold-hearted persona, Drake comparisons are inevitable, but “Electric Highway” seems equally indebted to DatPiff&B releases like Ty$’s Beach House or Late Nites With Jeremih. Rockie lacks Drake’s attention-consuming presence on the track, but also never veers into “Marvin’s Room” style sad sackery. On “Electric Highway”, Rockie is player conflicted by his romantic feelings for specific women. You feel for him when he says “see it get lonely when I ride around the town” on “Hold Me Down” but that sentiment is followed by a much colder verse that begins with “if you hold me down, I may someday love you.” You get the sense that Rockie wants to be in love, but doesn’t actually do the emotional labor to get there and tracks like “Show Me Sumthin’” featuring south-side sweetheart Sasha Go Hard show that he is more comfortable giving away his money than giving away his heart. It’s hard to be sympathetic to Rockie’s claims of loneliness when he seems so uncaring towards females, but his bummed-out bad boy steeze is perfectly suited for the gorgeous production on this mixtape.
Rockie is not the most engaging or adventurous rapper; most of the time he is competent enough as to not detract from the songs overall with occasional moments of cleverness. He does have a knack for punchline raps; on”Barrell of a Gun” he boasts, “These niggas think they hustle and they life is like The Wire / well, my shit a little different, I’m living like Breaking Bad / I got them white boys cooking up in the lab.” But overall “Electric Highway” is successful because of it’s quality production. Rockie is no Drake, and he may lack the strength of personality and lyrical abilities to truly be a contender. However, “Electric Highway” is musically beautiful tape from front to back and fans of artists like The Weeknd or Jeremih or Mike Will, who are constantly blurring the lines between rap and R&B, will find a lot to enjoy.
Stream: Rockie Fresh – Superman OG (Feat. Lunice)
Rockie Fresh’s Electric Highway is available now.