Diggy Simmons, Corey Gunz, Lil’ Romeo, and Doughboy. They’re all what can be considered “legacy rappers”, second-generation hip-hop artists. Each of them have had varying degrees of success which is largely due to the support they’ve received from their parental rap templates. But because none of them have ever attained the hip-hop plateau of influence and respect as their fathers, they continue to remain in their parents’ shadows despite attempts to form independent identities of their own. Chris Rivers is one legacy rapper who doesn’t have that problem. His father, the legendary Bronx Latino rapper Big Pun, died in 2000 when his son was five. Unlike the other rappers, Chris didn’t have his father’s backing. He got into the same line of work, but practiced and honed his inherited rapping skill until it was something different than that of his father. His skill is something he can call his own. To further the distance, his stage name is an anglicized version of his birth name. Also, it should be clear to listeners by now that when you hear Chris Rivers, there’s no way that you can hear Big Pun in his style. It’s all Chris Rivers when his words escape my speakers.
On his debut studio album, “Delorean”, Rivers takes listeners on an audio odyssey of tongue-twisting rhymes and wordplay over mostly trap-sounding beats. “Delorean” does appear to have a loose concept to it. The album cover pays homage to the Back to the Future franchise and has a visual nod to Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi epic Interstellar. Some of the skits are critiques on hip-hop’s current state and its current generation, all under the pretext of an alien abduction. Though Rivers’ age marks him as a millennial, he’s got more awareness than the typical member of his demographic. He’s part of the future, but he’s a part who actually took the time to learn about past history that has shaped his present. The album starts off with the title track produced by Unleash Musik. It’s actually a pretty strong introductory song with the frantic 808 drum programming and space-age synths. With Chris manipulating his densely-packed syllables into an accommodating flow for the beat, he demonstrates why he’s one of the top lyrical contenders among his new-school peers:
His predilection for hip-hop sensibilities from the 1990s shows throughout the album, most particularly on “Old Thing”. Applying his own take on Common’s pioneering “hip-hop-as-a-woman” extended metaphor from his 1994 song “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, the song has a wistful feel to it as Chris gives the listener a heavy wordplay-laden account of his love for and hsi beginnings with hip-hop. Though clearly a student of the old school with a homesickness for it, he also recognizes that while he can’t go back to that era, the most he can do is move forward with the qualities that made the “old thing” such a cherished time period for the music. Check out this sampling of the song’s lyrics:
“But it’s no Biggie, you was Juicy, used to use your words
Had to sit down with ya, Bonita Applebum
And know you’re feeling more like takeout, can’t make out, just make out
Still not a player though, never learned to take it slow
First you did some Twista, then you learned to take a Bone
A couple Thugs had Harmony, I never learned to stay alone”
Only two minutes shy of being a full-hour long, “Delorean” consists of twenty-two tracks with five of them being skits and three being lyrical interludes. While some of those brief tracks serve their purpose, some become filler material after a certain point. Additionally, the album isn’t filled with that many guest appearances of known artists. On the Excel Musik-produced “Fair Ones”, Chris raps alongside M.O.P. and L.O.X. members Lil’ Fame, Styles P., and Sheek Louch. The beat is unmistakably an NYC sound which goes good with the grimy lyrics. The only problem with the track is that it’s just under three minutes and leaves more to be desired for. “Ha Ha” brings the production back to its predominantly trap palette. The beat is slow and psychedelic enough to garner play during the club-hopping night life while Chris just rips it apart. There’s a theme of over-indulgence that Chris touches upon in the “Abundance” skit and its immediate follow-up “I Got Too Much”. The latter begins with what is initially assumed to be a celebration of excess with Chris’ raspy and distorted vocals chanting about his personal surplus in various areas. The song is more of a lamentation than a celebration, decrying overabundance and bemoaning how it’s affected him.
Chris’ flow and the beat on “No Gives” is reminiscent of A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problems”, especially with the lackadaisical production. On “Nothing”, Chris’ delivery is dope, and the dark piano sample fits the track with a feature from Jarren Benton. “Near Perfect” by Dune Deal continues the trap consistency, but Chris’ breath control on it is amazing with how he manages to fit all those rhymed syllables into one bar and still remain on beat. The aptly-titled “Fear of My Crown” utilizes triumphant synth-horns courtesy of producer Silent Jay, but doesn’t do much lyrically for this listener. In fact, part of the second half of the album is when the dragging becomes apparent.
As an emcee, Chris Rivers is one the most adept practitioners of hip-hop from the current generation. He may be a legacy rapper, but he’s not riding his father’s lyrical coattails either. He’s got his own style and a raspy voice that’s reminiscent of a significantly-less monotone and more emotive Mr. Lif. With “Delorean”, he’s shown the potential to go further than merely back to the future. He’s a lyrical emcee, no question, but what takes away from “Delorean” is the choice of production. While consistent for the most part, it becomes redundant after a point. But nonetheless, his debut has proven him to be his own emcee, and any comparisons between him and his father should now be nil.