On Limitations and Idiosyncrasies, Part 1.5: We don’t really do that “new new” ’round these parts…

And this isn’t really “new” per se–I believe the song was released sometime in fall ’09 and this video dropped in February–but it came to me in an e-mail and has been steadily growing on me over the last few weeks. I’m not so crazy about the video which is fun and typical and frenetic without being particularly gripping (some parts are well shot but a lot of those shots do seem to be products of a nice camera). The beat breathes and bumps nicely with the sounds of spring and summer, an energized, upbeat production that’s just bassy enough to bother the people in the car next to you. Dude Royal (the guy on the first and third verses) is pretty nice, certainly an average rapper who’s able to (mostly) stay on beat and deliver some charming lines (although in light of Trey Songz’ apparent invention of sex, anything that isn’t a brazen come on seems quaint and downright romantic). Dude Royal’s probably like Kid CuDi if CuDi chose to just rap instead of trying to rap and sing at the same time.

I just keep coming back to Rob Roy.

We’ve spent a lot of time here discussing and debating the idea of idiosyncratic artists and the difference between seeing the abilities of your heroes as a ceiling and, conversely, using them as a floor to build upon. Well I’m damn confused by Rob Roy. His flow is so clearly derivative of Andre 3000’s that he should probably put quotation marks around his mouth. But in listening to other songs of his (off of his interesting and mostly enjoyable debut King Warrior Magician Lover) it’s evident that he has stylistic and thematic quirks that are all his own. He’s much more intent on consistently playing with space and pauses than Andre*, leading to an almost abrasive stop-start style that often obscures words but clearly encourages and rewards repeat listens (you can hear this on “Don’t Go” and very clearly on “King Warrior Magician Lover,” posted below, which has a beat that also seems to borrow whole cloth from the frenetic pacing and percussion of Outkast’s seminal hit “B.O.B.”).

I think that Rob Roy is an interesting case study in the battle between forebears as untouchable idols of artistic perfection and titans providing the tools to rise even higher. He could very easily fall into the trap of just being an Andre 3000 clone and he’d probably be better than 90% of rappers for it. Alternatively he could become something much greater, a la Yelawolf who has clearly internalized the rhythms and flowing tics of an Andre 3000 and employs them to his advantage when necessary. Like Yelawolf, Freddie Gibbs, and Pill, it’s a bit early in the game to be passing judgment, but I certainly think Rob Roy is one to watch and an artist with the tools to transcend his influences. Definitely looking forward to seeing what he does next.

Hip Hop is alive, people. Stop telling yourselves damaging, barren myths that only help justify your undying love for the Golden Age and disdain for Jeezy. Open your ears.

*For the record, as I believe I’ve said before, I think Andre 3000 is the best rapper alive or dead. At any given time he’s liable to pull out any number of poetic devices in service of delivering his often complex metaphors and images. He certainly employs the same starting and stopping seen throughout Rob Roy’s raps, but he uses it much more sparingly and often to far more dramatic effect because of his careful choices. The only rapper that really comes close to him in terms of rhythmic and poetic complexity is Pharoahe Monch. Peak-level Eminem is somewhere near them.

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