Mad Decent / 300 records

Illicit substances, neon lights, gaudy designer accessories—God, these are all things that may not be at the height of taste, but can be super-pleasurable on their own, with no judgment (uh, or so we’ve heard). So it’s apt that all of these things—plus fresh sneakers, plus David Hasselhoff—come up over and over again in Riff Raff’s Neon Icon. The fast-moving 15 tracks feel, a lot of the time, really freaking good, even though you know mom or a judgey friend is out there wagging a finger, telling you you’re bad for liking them.

Here’s the thing: The world may never know the real deal with Riff Raff, who’s as famous for his over-the-top look and social media presence as he is for his actual music. (And yes, as an example, we’ll trot this out because it’s one of the greatest movies of our time—his persona also undeniably inspired James Franco in Spring Breakers.) And yes, Neon Icon will make the self-appointed gatekeepers of rap cringe and fume.

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But what Riff has accomplished here is elevating the true DGAF spirit to a high art. Is this wordy, conscious rap? No way. Is this tough-guy, street-cred-worthy thug rap? No way again. Is this a bizarre collection of chanted refrains, half-cooked sentences, but surreal, frequently hilarious imagery and psychedelic production? Yup, yup, yup, and yup again.

Neon Icon’s got its valleys and filler tracks, but it very often wins on the back of its futuristic, genre-splicing-and-dicing production (thanks Diplo and company), and the sheer, bizarre charm of its star. Half the time you might find yourself asking, “Is this really happening?” and then turning up the volume on a track based on a dolphin’s squeaks.

But before you listen, we’ve helpfully gone through the whole thing, track by track, and ranked, instead of stars, by pink dolphins—the ultimate symbol of all that is good and pure and beautiful in the world.

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1. "Introducing the Icon"

There's so much going on here—an aggro beat by Deezus, snipets of bro conversation, straight-up silly lines like "Who come through doing kung-fu/Jin-jitsu, eating kung pow when the thunder storm tornado." It's a sonic storm that kinda recalls when House of Pain was good. (There are kind of some production elements that recall Public Enemy a bit, too?) Whatever this song is about, besides introducing Riff's totally individual world view, it doesn't matter—it does an opening track's number-one job, which is to keep you listneing.

Four pink dolphins

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2. “Kokane”

Remember how crazy you felt when you heard Outkast’s “Hey Ya”-era incarnation? That’s this song, but updated for 2k14—rock swagger over an uptempo rhythm. Like its namesake drug (we’ve heard), it makes you really aggressively happy, like you want to punch something and smash glass and talk smack, and then it’s over. So you go back for another hit. Diplo produced this which is why it’s probably got the golden touch.

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3. “Wetter Than Tsunami”

“Step inside the club and I’m smelling like Miami,” our boy Jody Highroller intones over and over in this one. What does that mean? Quiet desperation? Suburban sprawl? A stripper’s cocoa butter? Raf Riley’s production makes this track, which could comfortably end before the two-minute mark.

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4. “Jody 3 Moons”

Props to Riff for keeping with the great hip-hop album tradition of skits. In this one, he keeps telling the listener he’s the actual moon talking. “Let them tears fall like waterfalls, like little Versace raindrops,” the moon (or Riff Raff) advises. What? It’s okay to cry or laugh at this one.

Three pink dolphins – lots of props for telling people it’s okay to cry, because it is

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5. “Versace Python” feat. Wiz Khalifa

This is something you want to be truly great because of the title alone, but you could easily skip over this and not miss any of the truly great moments of this album. Wiz shows up and raps about weed. What a surprise.

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6. “Lava Glaciers” feat. Childish Gambino

Play this for an old-school hip-hop head, and that person, while clutching a backpack, will appreciate this straight-ahead, boom-bap style beat by Harry Fraud. Your local hip-hop purist will also appreciate Riff’s laid-back, easy flow, and the Tribe Called Quest-ish guest rap at the end. That guest rap gets kinda sad, though, because it’s by Childish Gambino, lol. This track will soothe you during a commute.

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7. “Tip Toe Wing in my Jawwwdinz”

This one could stop after about 45 seconds and still make all of its points, which is that Riff Raff is very, very successful. Still, this is a point that’s expressed more creatively elsewhere on the album, so this one could go.

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8. “Maybe You Love Me”

This is one of the requisite Rap Album Love Songs. The syrupy beat here starts out as something Souljah Boy might pick but morphs into something a little more psychedelic. Most notable here is the high-pitched, falsetto hook by Mike Posner, and we’re told at the end, expressly, “No Auto-Tune was used in the making of this recording.” Okay, cool, but this track serves more as a pleasant bridge to the rest of the record.

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9. “Aquaberry Dolphin”

This one starts off on a high note, full of dolphin squeaks, and yet more David Hasselhoff and basketball references. Who doesn’t love a song built on the sounds of marine life? Unfortunately Mac Miller craters this one with the most sexist verse on the entire album. Women should floss their teeth before servicing them, he instructs, and also, “these hoes thirsty and I look like pink lemonade.” Ugh.

Remember, Miller is a dude who looks like this and whose whole shtick is being suburban. Ew. It’s interesting to note that besides a few references to strippers, Riff is pretty un-sexist and un-gross towards women for the most part, so this guest verse really sticks out in a negative way.

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10. “The Bloomingdales at Windshire Palace”

Oh, another skit! It’s mostly a bunch of gibberish in a British accent that takes place in a fancy store (are Bloomingdales really that snobby?). But it’s so silly you’ve just kind of gotta love that it’s even there.

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We can skip a dolphin rating here.

11. “Time”

So many people have tried and failed to make rap-country a thing, but Riff tackles it here, riding the finest line of sardonic humor. Over country strumming, with an exaggerated twang, again it’s impossible to tell if he’s serious. Here’s a sample line: “When it’s rainy and my car breaks down / I’ve got nobody to call besides AAA.”

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Three pink dolphins for sheer bravery

12. “How To Be the Man”

This is probably the closest thing to a straight-ahead, southern-style rap song on the whole album. It’s completely simplistic – the main refrain is basically, “Show you how to be the man, how to be the boss” ad infinitum. But tell me you wouldn’t enjoy yelling that while drunk, even though you know it’s not exactly Chaucer?

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Three pink dolphins

13. “Cool It Down”

Here’s another hip-hop purist-pleaser with a boom-bap beat, a soulful hook, and a rags-to-riches narrative. With Amber Coffman’s hook, this is some feel-good, mid-1990s-style stuff mixed with Riff’s 2014 flow. Play this in your car on repeat, especially if you are an Old, cause it will remind you of high school.

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14. “VIP Pass to My Heart”

Yes, the title alone is laugh-worthy, and then comes some retro, 1980s synth-pop and a robotic version of Riff singing a sickly sweet refrain. There’s no rap at all on this—which is also one of the most fun things about Neon Icon. Jody Highroller isn’t bound by silly rules.

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15. “How to Be the Man” remix feat. Paul Wall and Slim Thug

What this remix shows is the “regular” version of “How to Be the Man” is a great skeleton for a southern rap posse cut, and Paul Wall and Slim Thug are the perfect guests here. This blows the earlier album version out of the water. Yes—Neon Icon goes out on a high note!

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Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.