I don’t like admitting this, but Roach Gigz used to give me headaches. When the San Francisco rapper first got internet attention for his first Roachy Balboa mixtape three years ago, just about every rap critic I respect immediately started touting him as an exciting young prospect, and they weren’t wrong. Gigz can rap his ass off, and his persona — fired-up hornball everyman motormouth who knows he’ll never come across as a believable baller — was a fun and refreshing one. Someone (David Drake, maybe?) compared him to one of Jesse’s goofball go-nowhere methhead friends on Breaking Bad, albeit one who could really, really rap. But Gigz came from the Bay Area’s hyphy scene, and that’s a sound that, to my mild shame, I could never quite rap my ears around. It was too messy, too loud, too desperate for attention. I couldn’t get any work done while I was listening to it. And Gigz, fired-up and energetic rapper that he is, jumped right off of this already-jumpy music. I liked him a lot in small doses and couldn’t make it all the way through one of his tapes in one sitting. But now that they hyphy sound has moved on and taken other forms, Gigz is suddenly listenable for the length of an entire mixtape, and he’s made the necessary sonic adjustments without losing his inventively amped-up yammer or his dirtbag charm.
If you’ve been paying attention for the last couple of years, you know that DJ Mustard’s ratchet music sound, with its skeletal fingersnaps and knife-edge synth-blares and negative space, is pretty much the de facto sound of California rap right now. That’s a good thing. Ratchet music has roots in hyphy (as well as L.A.’s prim jerk scene and mid-’00s Atlanta snap music), but it streamlines that sound. In hyphy, the drums could sound like a brick tumbling around in a dryer; in ratchet music, they’re stripped back and precision-engineered to give each snare-smack maximum impact. The music is propulsive, but it also gives a good rapper plenty of room to operate. That’s an ideal situation for a guy like Gigz, who works best when his voice is the dominant sound on the track. Roachy Balboa Round 3 isn’t a straight-up ratchet-music mixtape, but Iamsu!, maybe the Bay Area’s most consistent ratchet rapper, shows up once, and various members of his HBK crew also contribute verses and production as needed. More importantly, Iamsu!’s influence is all over this thing, in its party-up franticness but also the weirdly humane mundanity on display.
Consider, for example, “Pu$$y Magnet,” featuring Kreayshawn. It’s pretty much the best possible scenario for the terrifying phrase “‘Pu$$y Magnet,’ featuring Kreayshawn.” Kreay (a Gigz booster even before she was famous) doesn’t get a verse; she just gets to chirp the endearingly doofy hook. The beat, from O.D. Flash, has a great rolling digital bassline and almost nothing else; it’s like an old Too $hort beat sped up halfway toward double-time. Roach’s pimping-out lyrics are too fun to take seriously, and they’re also weirdly relateable: “Believe it: I got an A bitch, a B bitch / A C bitch with cleavage that don’t keep no secrets / A D bitch that return my RedBox on time / And swear that moscato the best kind of wine.” It’s a cartoonish brag, sure, but do you know how important it is to return those RedBox DVDs on time? Those late fees pile up so fast! Roach Gigz, then, is the rare rapper willing to let you know that he does not want to pay those RedBox late fees. Gigz only really gets personal and cool-headed on the thoughtful final track “Don’t Forget The Gigz,” but the little party-rap details that pile up on the other songs are just as revealing.
Roachy Balboa Round 3 is no masterpiece. Almost as much as the ratchet-music stuff, its production draws on HARD Fest-style dance music, and that works OK but not as well. Most of the hooks connect, but not all of them do. You have to be in the right mood to play it. But it’s still a big leap forward for a rapper who hasn’t been around much lately, who seemed something like the product of another age. And it’s fun, in ways that more rap mixtapes should be. Look: I’ll probably never get sick about hearing rappers coo through Auto-Tune about moving bricks up from Central America. That stuff is great. But it’s the dominant mode right now, and sometimes you just need a proud go-nowhere to roll through and talk a bunch of entertaining shit. That’s Roach Gigz.
Download Roachy Balboa Round 3 here.