Stones Throw is marketing Roc C as their impressive and critically acclaimed roster’s gangsta representative. The record company has been known to hold down the West Coast for funk/soul/rare groove purists, battle cats, and abstract weirdos, but has so far alienated the hardcore street audience. Face it: Stones Throw caters, from their beatsmiths’ championing of the super-obscure to their always on point artwork, to rap nerds. One question remains: What happens when the nerds meet Roc C?
The success of this album rests on two things. One, to like “All Questions Answered,” you must like Oh No’s beats. Here, the man probably sick of being referred to as Madlib’s brother supplies almost an entire album’s worth of bugged-out production. Simultaneously lush and abrasive, his beats sound a lot like his brother’s, albeit with a propensity to borrow more heavily from West Coast funk’s sticky, elastic aesthetic. The two producers share a love of experimenting with space, overloading tracks with overlapping sounds, using silence as an instrument, leaving some sounds treble- or bass-less in order to disturb any semblance of boring predictability. Oh No’s beats are often prickly and punchier than Madlib’s sometimes meandering compositions, but the similarities between the two would be remarkable even if they weren’t related. Still, Oh No is hardly jocking his bro’s style. Experimenting with alternative drum sounds/patterns and searching for one-of-a-kind samples is never a bad thing.
Most gangsta-minded rappers rap overly-hard over mediocre beats and get mad when their career doesn’t go anywhere. Most gangsta rappers are street kings first, rap artists second, and assume that success in the latter is tantamount solely to their already-proven hustling abilities. On the contrary, Roc C has the advantage of actually being a rap fan, knowing how to rhyme, and knowing the difference between good and bad beats, meaning he’s not just another thug with no place in the rap game. It’s safe to say that more “experimental” beatmakers like Oh No attract an inordinate amount of weird, tripped out, nonsensical rappers ready to rip the unconventional in an unconventional way. It’s a bit of a switch-up to place a straight-up hardcore rapper over well-dug, roughshod beats. Usually such MC’s rap over canned Mafioso rehash.
The last G that’s been this intent on proving he can rhyme well was Game, and Roc C is way better. Like Game, he relies heavily on rapping hard and hungry more than stunning turns of phrase or an ultra-technical flow, but Roc C just plain rips it harder. He also displays the crucial honesty that separates hardcore MC’s from hardcore caricatures. On “Hear Me Now” he states:
“Barely graduated, played hoop but didn’t make it
Friendships disintegrated, I guess things DO change
When I was young I just wanted to hit sixteen
Hit sixteen and really didn’t have a plan B”
So he rhymes in the mirror, pretends to be a rapper until he becomes one. He shows his love for rap by appropriating Nas’ “the buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto” line as well as professing his affinity for two of my favorite girls in “urban” music:
“I need a bitch that can ride like Jean Grae
Look like Beyonce
And love to drink Tanqueray”
Chino XL shows up to handle the chorus and drop some bars on the “El Capitan” remix, and of course he rips it. Glasses Malone, a name I was unfamiliar with, does a great job on “Fuck You” (the billionth time that song title has been used) with a voice that sounds like Young Jeezy. Other notable appearances come from Stones Throw fam Aloe Blacc and Dudley Perkins as well as Bizzy Bone (!). Bizzy sounds good, not a bit out of place on the sexual “Watching U.”
As impressive as Roc C is on the mic, his personality comes across mostly in his hardcore delivery; the content is a little lacking. It’s strange- on the song “Let’s Battle” he directly addresses people on the Stones Throw message boards that think they can battle him over a high-energy beat. He pounces all over the track, but for all the spastic energy and high-voltage theatrics, he doesn’t spit any real quotables. The song is effective: the beat is serious and Roc C sounds unhinged, but there’s no lingering cleverness to stay with the listener. It’s a problem.
There’s an abundance of stock songs like “Let’s Get This Paper,” a completely derivative song about bitches. The song is nothing special, not a step backwards for the world of rap, but a conceptual spinning of the wheels notable only for the beat. “Murda” fares better, but suffers from its stereotypical violent hood raps. Once again, Oh No saves the day with a beat that bleeds sick-ass ‘xploitation style with Cadillac bass and mysterious crime caper bongos, tambourine, and cymbals. Sounds like an ill detective show theme song.
Oh No steals the show on this LP with his harps, imploding and exploding beats, and strangled synths. However, Roc C is hardly out of place or even outclassed. The duo sound natural together, a true Oxnard team. Roc C is mostly arrived as the MC he wants to be. He doesn’t rap A-B-A-B to boring infinity. He’s not afraid to break a strict rhythm and get inside the beat. His presence is formidable. On “My Life” Aloe Blacc sings a patois-inflected soul-injected shaman sermon over an unbelievably dope synth and harp combination somehow set to a martial stomp. Oh No’s beat is amazing, but Roc C is truly the star on this track as he tells his abridged autobiography, a troubled story of stress and hardship. He breaks from his gangsta rhetoric to spit what’s really real, and the result is truly captivating. Better yet for Roc C, with Aloe Blacc and Oh No on the song, the sickness comes entirely from the Stones Throw family. That means this dopeness is not a fluke and definitely repeatable.
All in all, this album would be more successful if only the most bugged out songs appeared. About a quarter of the album is unmoving but not entirely skippable. On the songs that succeed, Stones Throw proves to have a powerful weapon in Roc C and yet another brilliant beatmaker in Oh No. Typical rap nerds will wish Roc C got deeper into his own funkiness instead of just vibing with the beats and spitting nails. Roc C needs to know that rapping hardcore content can be redundant when your natural voice and delivery reinforce said hardness all the time. Still, there will be a lot of gangsta fans feeling this album of sick beats and hyped flow.