Review: Riff Raff & DJ Afterthought - 'Balloween'
Presented by his official DJ, Pittsburgh’s DJ Afterthought, ‘Balloween’ is admittedly fun - the record’s title alone is fun.
It’s hard not to smirk as Riff Raff courageously runs wild with a sense of freedom across the album’s duration.
Still, the actual quality of the hip-hop/trap is a glaring issue. Many of the tracks feel vacant, the worst contain unintentional novelty and parodic value.
If ‘Balloween’ isn’t supposed to spoofing rap, trap and EDM music, then it’s embarrassing.
If it is supposed to be satire, musical satire doesn’t automatically mean the music should be substandard.
There are complete unknowns all over the world posting better tracks online than a lot of the material on ‘Balloween’. Seriously.
The LP’s line-up of hip-hop/trap tunes would work in the background of certain club or social settings, but Riff Raff isn’t using his platform to communicate anything worthwhile and so the LP lacks a whole dimension.
Riff Raff could spit at length about going against the hip-hop grain or being proud to be different - but he doesn’t. Listeners will have to read interviews with the 34 year-old to understand the method behind his madness because ‘Balloween’ really doesn’t go into it.
It’s astonishing how the Texan can spit lyrics while communicating nothing in particular. Riff Raff’s bars often come across rote, scripted and mechanical. On the LP’s ‘Balloween Intro’, it almost seems as if he’s choosing lyrics simply because they rhyme.
As the tunes on the backend of the set start to adhere to the same basic rap agenda, ‘Balloween’ becomes even more unchallenging. Some efforts sit lazily below a mixtape quality, others enter demo territory.
It’s often left to the album’s impressive line-up of guest artists like to bring something creatively substantial to the tracks. The presence of artists like Skepta, Trae Tha Truth, Jimmy Wopo and Quavo repeatedly reveal how stunted Riff Raff’s rap skills are.
London grime star and 2016’s Mercury Prize winner Skepta guests over the spacious hip-hop beats of standout tune ‘Back From The Dead’ and seemingly has no problem fitting into Riff Raff’s neon world.
The grit and aggression of cold-blooded highlight ‘F**k ’Em All’ is made noteworthy by the contribution of the tune’s guests Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul and Migos’ Quavo.
Promoting hard graft over a busy, synthy hip-hop framework, Lil’ B makes an appearance on ‘Working Everyday’. Unlike a lot of the tracklisting, this cut’s instrumental has a sense of ambition.
Florida hip-hop recording artist Gunplay introduces a flow and gels the loose parts of trap/EDM-mash up ‘Switch Lanes’, which interestingly genre-jumps.
Riff Raff aims clunky R&B/hip-hop hybrid ‘Lil’ Momma’ at all the girls who’ve had their heart broken by him. The track’s lyrics are regretful and earnest, however that emotion is not communicated easily through his strained vocals. The general mix of the song also sounds rough and kinda cluttered.
Over the deep basslines of ‘Always Up’, Young Lean and Riff Raff rap enthusiastically about their love of money and having indiscreet sex with women.
‘Moves Like Batman’ flickers with promise, however it’s decent hook is delivered with lacklustre. Over the track’s sledgehammer beat, it’s whispery chorus renders the song weedy and creates a void. The same could be said for ’Stay Away From You’, which is saved from complete mediocrity by Pittsburgh-native Jimmy Wopo.
‘Staring At The Sun’ is bewilderingly repetitive. Yet guest emcees West Virginia’s Ponce and Illinois rapper Ghetty do enhance the record, they provide its one-dimensional beatwork with some urgency, some authority.
‘Sold The House’ is a slice of unabashed, uncomplicated EDM - it does contain some temporary, mindless appeal. If ‘Sold The House’ were dropped in the club between two bonafide EDM cuts - it wouldn’t completely flop.
Admittedly, more than a few chuckle-inducing one-liners are heard during ‘Bi**hes In My Driveway’, a cut that features the other members of Riff Raff’s former group Three Loco.
Riff Raff channels country music’s icons over the modest guitar instrumental of ‘Heart Of Gold’, which features Travis Barker. As Riff Raff looks over his life and gets philosophical, the song’s lyrics become reflective. The rapper’s singing vocals satisfy because they don’t try to go too far or do too much.
Wholesome, sunny pop, country-lite effort ‘Take You Away’ lacks spirit and feels intent-free. Despite that, it’s a kinda cute, harmless breather from the album’s altogether insistent tracklisting.