Track by Track: riQo the menace - thelayoff

Milwaukee rapper and #FREESPACE affiliate riQo the menace has become a favorite of mine over the past couple months through live performance and a slew of singles. Needless to say, I was anticipating the release of his debut project, 'thelayoff', which dropped last week.

Here's my review:

Intro: No hook, just raps. An intro that immediately shows things that pop up throughout the project. RiQo's ability to switch up flows and tempos is apparent. So is his tendency for old-school references, with nods to Rick Flair, Paul Bunyan, Pink Floyd, and a sample of the Southern classic, '25 Lighters'. The frequent usage of a pitched-down voice begins here as well. And of course, LeanBeatz, who produced 8 of 11 tracks on 'thelayoff', shows his signature style of trap production. 

COME UP: One of the tracks that Lean didn't produce. EQ gives RiQo a backdrop that's a bit more boom-bap. Who's EQ? 

This is where the preciseness of RiQo's pen really starts to shine, both in verse and in hook. Some of the clever wordplay here jumps off the page. 

Fool me with that poker face, goddamn I'm glad you showed your cards
I had to learn you was a bitch, I guess I studied abroad
These n****s be selling dreams and you believe the facade

What stands out even more so is RiQo's capacity to write a concise, catchy, clever, just overall pretty perfect hook.

Grinding like a skater till I come up
You ain’t got no life, you need to one up
Layoff on the way, I’m bout to cut up
Relay for them bands, we just trynna make em run up

Can You / Been Gone: Hooks again. These are probably the two strongest hooks on the mixtape. Part of that has to do with RiQo's discipline, allowing good friend and collaborator CLEO to sing hooks. 

These two tracks offer a different style than the rest of 'thelayoff'. Lean cooked up something a bit lighter with 'Can You', a thematically unique track for RiQo - a love song of sorts. 

'Been Gone' is a standout track, starting with a raw ass beat. Kutthrowt uses the flute much like Zaytoven. Paired with a cool guitar riff and drums, something really special is created. Beyond that, the hook on this one may be the most important moment of 'thelayoff'. 

Been going hard on these drugs, admit it got me trippin'
These days it's kill or be killed, can't let em catch me slippin'
I'm going hard for my fam so they can quit the bitchin'
Cause I'mma be who I am and I don't think they get it

Several songs on here may glorify drug usage, but this first line gives light to a possible subconscious feeling of RiQo's. It also touches on a sense of being misunderstood which seems to be a part of his persona. But despite anything eating at him, there are moves to be made and he won't be held back. 

Image: Jack Tutton

MOBBIN: The last track that Lean doesn't produce, rather it's the first one that he raps on. If you want raps, this is the track to play. Clocking in at 5 minutes and 10 seconds, it's the longest cut on 'thelayoff' and doesn't count on any kind of chorus. This aptly-titled track with a dope string-based beat salutes Rick James with audio samples. 

Interlude: A more traditional LeanBeat. Again, a nod to the past with a sample of Lil Flip's 'The Way We Ball'. This is another spot where RiQo picks up the tempo. While the notion that rapping fast makes you a good rapper is a misconception, the ability to switch up flows and tempos is definitely helpful. RiQo has a low, thick voice that people may put into a box as being restricted to one style of music or not coming with much talent. 'Interlude' is the umpteenth time he's proven this wrong. 

Purple: Lean has taken over the production at this point. It makes for an interesting dynamic. Three of the first five tracks produced by various producers, before Lean taking over for the back six. In a way, this would work well as a literal tape that you have to flip over, but the sound is cohesive nonetheless. 

Another CLEO hook. An ode to Pimp C, an ode to lean. A slapper. 

93: My favorite LeanBeat on here. It's almost a trap-Halloween beat, with a wavering, spooky effect in the back throughout. One of the few tracks on here where RiQo raps/sings the hook, showing that he is in fact quite capable. 

Famous: It takes 45 seconds for the beat to drop on here. That's not a knock, just something that I noted. Longest it takes for any song on the project. 

ONLYONE: A previously released single. The song that sold me on RiQo. Perhaps the best of any song on here to play at the function. 

ATL: RiQo and Lean wrap this project in style. 

As a whole, I got a lot of what I expected from 'thelayoff', and then more. It's a project that I'll be playing for a while. This is surely a successful debut. However, as it is riQo's first effort, I am certainly expecting and anticipating even more from further projects. The recently-turned-21 rapper is not yet at the forefront of Milwaukee's budding hip-hop scene, but don't be surprised to see him there soon.