Originally published at The Under Age on 30 July 2014

Before listening to it, you could think Neon Icon, the second release from Texas rapper Riff Raff, was a comedy album. Firstly, the unconventionally named Riff Raff, who also answers to ‘Jody High Roller’, has a bit of an unconventional back-story. A proud attention-seeker from an early age, Riff Raff took every chance to appear on television — first applying for P. Diddy’s reality show Making the Band and failing to make the cut, before shuttling across the United States to Atlanta to appear on MTV’s From G’s to Gents. And even if you took Riff Raff’s character seriously, his album cover doesn’t look the part of a hip-hop record. Illuminated by pink and blue, the Neon Icon cover features the braid-haired Riff Raff holding a doe-eyed baby under one arm and a Siberian husky under the other. The bizarre back-story and album cover are important because against all the odds and expectations, Riff Raff aka Jody High Higher aka the self-proclaimed ‘white Chris Rock’ may have released the hip-hop album of the year.

Neon Icon finds the brilliant balance between hard-hitting lyricism, an out-of-the-box diverse flow and some of the best production you will hear all year on a rap record. The tone is set from the opening ‘Introducing the Icon’, in which Raff goes over a belting Deezus beat in a ranty brag-rap that is prevalent through the album. Fans of deep, introspective hip-hop that offers poetic reflections on pressing social issues beware, Neon Icon says absolutely nothing of substance — and it’s brilliant.

The album’s strength lies in Riff Raff’s wit and pure passion for his songs. After years of aligning himself with the right producers, it has paid off in the form of a tight fifteen song collection that features a cast of star beat-makers that manage to tie Riff Raff’s boundless energy and ridiculous lyrics together with some professional production. It makes Neon Icon difficult to define. The Diplo-produced ‘Kokayne’ is a rock-infused dance track with Ritalin-speed bars while ‘Cool It Down’ with the Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman takes a deep breath as Riff Raff offers ‘I can remember being nineteen, nice dreams/Nightmares, crystal stares, they don’t like’, a rare insight into the troubled mind that lies underneath the dyed pink braids and Bart Simpson tattoos.

Throughout the album, Riff Raff leans on his collaborators to set the tone of the song. Mike Posner jumps on ‘Maybe You Love Me’, a track about a fractured relationship that sounds like an offcut from Posner’s solid 2012 mixtape The Layover. Likewise, Mac Miller and Childish Gambino steal their guest verses on ‘Aquaberry Dolphin’ and ‘Lava Glaciers’, suggesting that while capable of producing a brilliant album, Riff Raff may not have the capability to match it with the game’s leading artists.

While radiating, refreshing and exciting on the first listen, the album’s absurdity does get tired quickly though, and songs like ‘Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz’ (an abhorrent attempt at ‘Tip-toeing in my Jordans’) make for catchy punchlines at first, shout-outs to the ‘ballers who be rockin’ fresh Jordans’ quickly become tired, bland and uninspired after a few listens.

To enjoy Neon Icon, one needs to buy into the ridiculous character that identifies as Riff Raff. He has a Versace sleeping bag, he eats pork chop sandwiches and if lead single ‘How to be the Man’ is any indication, Riff Raff is the boss. Buying in to this caricature and taking it seriously can be hard, but once you’re able to, Neon Icon is a gift that doesn’t stop giving. – See more at: http://theunderage.com.au/2014/07/30/riff-raffs-quirky-neon-icon-shocks-and-surprises/#sthash.yuWmTyv3.dpuf

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