Roach Gigz : San Francisco Swagger

Music Features San Francisco

Hometown: San Francisco
Albums: Roachy Balboa 2, B!tch, I’m a Player
For Fans Of: Mac Dre, E-40, Lil Wayne

Roach Gigz is not a household name. He tries not to let on, but it’s clear that his lack of mainstream recognition frustrates him. “With a major label, you have that push to make you a star,” the 22-year-old says. “That’s a beautiful thing to make a living being independent, but you’re not gonna become Lil Wayne or Drake.”

In the world of hip-hop, that’s a valid point. Still, thanks to a growing Internet profile and a string of recent appearances on MTV2’s Sucker Free Countdown, Roach Gigz is that much closer to achieving crossover glory. He certainly acts the part of a star. With his chatty demeanor, nervous charisma, and an appetite for peculiar clothing that seems inherited from deceased hyphy forefather Mac Dre, Roach is strangely marketable. Indeed, he has the progressive swagger of his chief influence, Lil Wayne.

Yes, Roach is a character. Not many hip-hop artists would discuss, apparently in complete earnest, the joys of buying a turtle. However, Roach’s lack of any detectable filter is a large part of his appeal, and the San Francisco native is gaining increased recognition. He first piqued Internet interest last year with the well-received mixtape, Roachy Balboa. The sequel was released to another round of glowing reviews this winter. Like its predecessor, Roachy Balboa 2 is a beauty of pacing and sequencing. Every track builds on the previous one’s momentum until what’s left is an excitable, muscularly produced piece of work that holds its weight against virtually every retail hip-hop album coming out of the Bay right now.

The tape isn’t without its flaws—Roach’s pseudo-seductive cadence ruins a quite soulful beat on “Smile”—but they’re largely unnoticeable in this context. “Rockin’ and Rollin’” is a club banger ripe with hilarious asides. “Chances” samples Survivor’s 1982 MOR staple “Eye of the Tiger” to hysterical effect. Bay ambassador Mistah F.A.B. contributes a verse to “Rapstar,” while “Blasting Off” is a cerebral meditation on the perils of street life. Still, Roachy Balboa 2 is the sum of its parts, so you likely won’t hear any one track as immediately engrossing as last year’s psychedelic rant “F A Chorus,” a stylistic homage to Lil Wayne if there ever was one.

Roach welcomes the Wayne comparisons. They’re both singularly great MCs, for one thing. Both are popular online. More worryingly, both enjoy “mind expansion” a little too often. There are a staggering number of drug references on Roachy Balboa 2. On “Syrup Thighs,” he draws a metaphor between promethazine-codeine (hip-hop’s liver toxin of choice) and a generously endowed woman. On “Blasting Off,” he raps about escaping his troubles with the hallucinatory cough suppressant DXM. Other tracks are littered with references to weed and ecstasy.

Yet it seems futile to speculate on the role that drugs play in informing his creative process. What matters is that Roach has charisma to spare. Whereas many rappers are aloof off record, Roach is properly buzzing. He’s talkative and personable, but for all his outsized quirks, Roach sometimes finds the spotlight difficult to handle. “People want to take pictures and shit,” he says, baffled.

Roach is a paradox: a new-age rapper who would prefer the challenges of the major-label demimonde to Internet stardom; a mixtape rapper whose works play like fully realized albums; a thoughtful kid from the Bay who sounds virtually nothing like Zion I or The Coup; a San Fran native who rhymes about East Oakland; an underground cat who aspires to be bigger than everyone.

“Y’all need to open your eyes / See me some way,” Roach asserts during the intro to his hypnotic 2010 track “Respect It.” “Because I’m here, bitch, and I’m coming.”

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