There’s no denying that hip-hop has changed substantially over the past decade. The mainstream market today is dominated by artists such as Drake, Kid Cudi, and T-Pain, who blend elements of rap, R&B, and pop music to create a distinct new-school sound. The question of whether this is good or bad for hip-hop music as a whole is a debate best saved for another time, but the fact remains that, in the digital age where it is easier than ever for artists to get their music out, the market has become flooded with hundreds of new-school emcees who don’t offer much when it comes to variety. While the Internet makes it easier than ever to drop a mixtape and gain followers, it also creates a free-for-all environment with low entry costs and lots of unfiltered music, making it harder and harder for emcees to distinguish themselves. Richie Rocket is a Chicago-based hip-hop/R&B artist who is trying to do just that â€“ stand out amid a sea of mediocrity by producing meaningful and creative music â€“ and his debut mixtape, titled “Zero Gravity” and presented by DJ Smallz, allows him to showcase his skills as both a rapper and a singer.
The first thing listeners will notice about “Zero Gravity” is that the instrumentals are primarily borrowed from top 40 songs, such as Drake’s “Over,” Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” and Lloyd Banks’s “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley.” Thus, right off the bat the mixtape has a very generic feel to it; there is nothing necessarily wrong with the tracks Richie chooses, and many of them work well to complement his voice, but there just isn’t much in the way of originality. While I found myself grooving to the radio-friendly beats, the lack of a unique production style reinforces the idea that Richie Rocket is just another crossover artist with little more than a mixtape and a good voice. For an artist who claims to draw not only from contemporary music but also from the sounds of the 70s and 80s, it would be nice to see a little of this old-school influence in his songs.
With instrumentals essentially out of the picture, the focus moves to Richie Rocket’s skill on the mic. A promo for the mixtape reads “with creativity and imagination, he has created his own musical world,” and thus I had somewhat high expectations for the lyrical content of “Zero Gravity.” Too often, aspiring new-school hip-hop and R&B artists get caught up in overly simplistic rhymes that offer nothing new, and I hoped that Richie would avoid this trap. “Zero Gravity,” though, offers little evidence of this supposed creativity, and Richie rarely ventures outside the usual topics of picking up girls, popping bottles, smoking weed, and coming up in the rap game. Take his verse over Soulja Boy’s “Pretty Boy Swag,” for example:
“Show up after show, ho up after ho
Bottle after bottle, everybody knows
Mr. Jetson lands, it’s a change of plans
I’m boutta shut it down, people clap your hands
It’s another night, in my fucking life
If I had a chance, I would do it twice
Diamond chains on, different time zones
In your dreams is where you see the bitches I bone
On my iPhone, baby I’m on
Going global on these bitches like Verizon”
If you’re sitting there scratching your head, you probably aren’t alone. While this is admittedly one of Richie’s poorer verses, the rest of “Zero Gravity” doesn’t get a whole lot better in terms of lyricism. Even the lead single off the mixtape, “Slow Down,” is plagued by clichÃ©d lines such as “You know I’m smoother than a criminal/ ‘Cause I got your fucking girl, all up on my genitals.”
Overall, it seems as if Richie Rocket’s voice and flow are better suited for pop and R&B than hip-hop. He has a knack for delivering catchy choruses, as evidenced on “Showout,” where he raps:
“Baby girl I show out, dough is all I know ’bout
This where I belong and I know that shit with no doubt
Bubble kush we blow out, every time I go out
Every time I go out, every girl I show out”
In addition, tracks such as “Haters” and “Say Something” lend themselves much more to his slowed down, drawn out delivery, where he switches between singing and rapping, and emphasize his actual voice more than the lyrics themselves. Even these few bright spots, though, can’t hide the fact that Richie doesn’t have the lyrical prowess or creativity necessary to carry a full mixtape, and the bottom line is that there is really nothing to distinguish him from the rest of the pack of up-and-coming new-school rappers. As an R&B or pop artist, Richie Rocket has the voice necessary to generate some buzz, but from purely a hip-hop standpoint, he simply doesn’t measure up. Without much in terms of original production, there is nothing to boost “Zero Gravity” out of mediocrity, and while top 40 fans may want to give the mixtape a look for some familiar instrumentals, most will likely find that Richie Rocket brings nothing new to the table.