Signing to a major label can have a drastic effect on the outcome of their career. The increased exposure and budget can put an artist in the mainstream to an extent that would more than likely not be possible. However, if the situation isn’t right a rapper can be shelved and a promising career ruined due to mitigating circumstances. When Rockie Fresh announced he was joining the MMG team and planned to release albums through Warner Bros. it seemed too soon. There was concern all of the talent and potential shown on his previous work wouldn’t get the shine it deserved within MMG. Rockie Fresh released Driving 88 in 2012 to widespread acclaim, but the project wasn’t as popular as Love. Live. A$AP. or Kush & Orange Juice and it didn’t have a radio smash like Trinidad James’ Don’t Be S.A.F.E., so there weren’t as many people familiar with him when he signed on with a major record label. Rather than turning into a carbon copy of Meek Mill or making some other drastic changes to his art, he went on a national tour off the strength of just a cosign and mixtapes and built himself a larger base. Maybach Music Group is undoubtedly one of the strongest teams in rap, but whether or not there was space for a Chicago MC who samples SBTRKT and Sampha remained to be seen. All of those concerns seem rudimentary after one listen to Electric Highway, the premiere mixtape from Rockie Fresh since joining Rick Ross and MMG.
From the outset Rockie attempts to set the tone for the tape. This will be many fans’ first experience with Rockie Fresh and he wants it to be a lasting one. The Delorean theme from Driving 88 continues as the mixtape opens then enters Rockie spitting semi-inspirational semi-reflective bars on the aptly titled “The Future.” The first standout track comes on “Superman OG” where Lunice (1/2 of the production duo TNGHT) provides a spacey trap landscape for Rockie to lyrically show out for 3 minutes with absolute quotables. ‘You n**gas Dr. Scholls you about to see defeat’ or ‘Look at the countries I’m in all my n**gas tripping’ all with the bass gradually disrespecting your ears. The Lunice production is far from his most ambitious musical effort on the project though. On ‘Show Me Sumthin’ he heavily incorporates “Fantasy” by The xx and effectively makes use of the call and response lyrics with Sasha Go Hard that The xx have made a staple of their releases.
The features on this project are kept to a minimum which bodes well if the purpose is to showcase Rockie Fresh and his talent. He doesn’t allow any rapper featured to wash him or make the track their own which speaks well for his lyrical ability. On ‘Life Long’ he brings Rick Ross and Nipsey Hussle into his realm of music rather than getting Lex Luger or J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League production and being drowned out by a monster Rick Ross verse. He opts for some of Boi-1da’s more soulful production and still getting off the quotables; “5 in the morning already made 5 stacks them Satchel Paige diamonds yea them bitches pitch black.” The only other feature on the project comes from Curren$y on ‘Roll One Up’ which is a decent song, but it doesn’t fit within the tone Rockie attempts to set for the other 16 tracks. Great song to roll one up to, but doesn’t offer much more.
The musical influences of Rockie Fresh are clearly diverse. At times you can’t avoid certain cliches; for example there are many songs on this mixtape that exhibit the “this is me, this is where I’m going” lyrical scheme. This is standard of all rappers still on the come up. However, one of the most genuine efforts of this common practice comes on ‘Barrel Of A Gun.’ At under 3 minutes he doesn’t give himself enough time to sound preachy, just dropping exceptional lyrics about the importance of the place he’s in right now and how he plans to execute; “These n**gas say they hustle and they life is like the wire/Well my shit a little different, I’m living like breaking bad. I got them white boys cooking up in the lab.” With Rockie being from the most violent city in America and having a rise to prominence around the same time as fellow Chicagoan Chief Keef these lyrics mean more than when a random artist raps a similar lyric.
A$AP Rocky teaming up with Skrillex and Birdy Nam Nam for the dubstep/trapstyle influenced track “Wild For The Night” led to him being applauded for being a forward thinking emcee. Recognizing good electronic music and realizing the appeal EDM has worldwide despite raps normal inability to accept certain genres is worth praise. However, what may have been a better decision (at least stylistically) was on “Nobody” where Rockie Fresh hopped on UK electronic producer Breakage’s remix of “Ain’t Nobody” by Clare Maguire. The hard hitting bass and Clare Maguire’s soulful voice acting as a chorus creates a modern trip-hop landscape and another standout on this project. What some people won’t realize unless they go back into his catalog is that Rockie Fresh has been incorporating alternative genres into his music since Rockie’s Modern Life (best Beirut sample ever), but not just for the sake of getting love from Stereogum. He is clearly an artist with a genuine appreciation for all forms of music, namely indie rock. His relationship with Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy should attest to that. On “Something Special” the guitar synths and keys together give it the perfect outro feel and the lyrics are coming from a different place than most of the “pat yourself on the back” s*it rappers do on the last song on their album. Rather he is reflecting on the movement and using the previous 16 tracks as proof that “I think we got something special.”
Rockie Fresh really doesn’t disappoint anybody on Electric Highway. His old fans will be extremely happy that he has stayed relatively the same musically and new fans will be captivated by the variety of sounds he employs over the course of the project. There are a few occasions of auto-tune that don’t necessarily make for bad tracks or a bad project, but going auto-tune free wouldn’t have compromised the integrity of those few songs. This mixtape conveyed exactly what Warner/MMG/APG and Rockie Fresh wanted to; he’s a dope ass young artist from Chicago who has no interest in being the next anyone. Like he says on “Life Long” ‘I am not a rapper just a real n**ga who accidentally be rhyming when speaking on how I feel.’