Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ROCH -- Lightweight Bipolar Mania

When it comes to hip-hop, my interest is directly proportional to two things: density, and what has been added to the basic recipe to elevate and distinguish the music. In other words, I need more than a clever rap and deep beat for my head to start bobbing and my feet to start tapping. I need detail. I need depth. I need humor. And I need at least a perfunctory attempt to connect with some sort of melody.

Uriel J. Winfree III, known by his stage name ROCH, knows that the future of hip-hop rests on its ability to expand beyond its borders and to remain musically relevant. On his new album Lightweight Bipolar Mania, he follows in the footsteps of artists such as OutKast and Kanye by discovering the beauty of the musical instrument--and that includes the human voice (i.e. pure singing, a growing and welcome trend in hip-hop). As with Janelle Monae's exquisite The ArchAndroid, the first few tracks of LBM follow a more conventional arc in terms of the genre, and then about a third of the way through everything breaks loose and becomes infused with possibility.

For example, the softly-played electric guitar and piano that drives "No More Stars" is more poignant than you might expect from someone who still has the ego to call out "the Naysayers" in his liner notes. The hypnotic and jittery electric piano riff that runs through "Another Heartbreak," coupled with the plaintive chorus, echoes the more theatrical tracks Big Boi has laid down over the last decade. The straightforward rock drumming that propels the album's closer, "Nothing" seems to finish the affair with an intriguing mix of uncertainty and daring.

I still feel ROCH needs to mature a bit when it comes to lyrics. He's much better than the average rap star yet still lacks the playful sense of humor that characterizes the vanguard. But LBM is noteworthy enough to call one of the best hip-hop albums so far this young year, and I think he can develop into one of the greats if he keeps heading down this path.

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