When you listen to Emilio Rojas you’re listening to the future of hip-hop – and I don’t...
DJBooth Album Review
This future is not guaranteed. Plenty of artists have been the next big thing only to see their promise become tarnished by greed, legal troubles or label politics beyond their control. Will Rojas be able to achieve the success he appears destined for? Only God knows, but The Natural is a good place to start. Rojas’ second major project following the buzz-worthy Recession Proof, The Natural is a DJ Green Lantern-affiliated mixalbum (less than an album, more than a mixtape, it’s a mixalbum), featuring a heavy hitter roster of producers that will only serve to further build the hype around Rojas…as if expectations weren’t already high enough.
There’s no better place to start than Piano Bounce, a Green-Lantern produced joint that appropriately flips a piano line into a smoky track that Rojas uses to alternate between swagger and deeply introspective lyrics, going from booty-centric boasts to reflections on the state of his soul in the span of three lines: “Enough eye candy for a diabetic coma / the city where I’m from they got a rep for being coarse / so I done dealt with any real emotion but remorse.” Start taking notes aspiring emcees, that’s how it’s done. It’s a similar story on the triumphant Untouched, perhaps The Natural’s most unapologetically celebratory cut, and the epically-oriented I Want It All, a track that’s a seamless mixture of Lantern’s quasi-gothic production, a more traditional r&b hook from Dwanye Collins and typically on point delivery from Rojas. If you love hip-hop and aren’t feeling these tracks I don’t know what to tell you, you’re beyond help.
Pause. Let’s all just take a deep breath. Yes Rojas is ill, but he’s got a ways to go before he can truly hold his own with rap’s elite. First, I’m not convinced that Rojas has a hit song in him. I’m not asking for the man to drop Crank Dat, but the truly great emcees can get deep and find chart success (see Jay, Nas, Kanye, even Lupe), and if Rojas has that kind of crossover potential in him I don’t know if I’ve heard it yet. The most obvious radio avenue for Rojas to travel down is the “songs for the ladies” route, and The Natural has a couple offerings in that vein, including the lightly harmonized Only Just Begun and the catchy Breaking Me Down, but they’re not truly radio ready. Second, Rojas tends to pace his flows very similarly, making listening to The Natural straight through slightly monotonous at times, although he does show he can speed up his flow on tracks like City Lights and The Rest. Still, I’d compare The Natural to Lebron’s rookie season. You could see the holes in his game, but the raw potential of his talent was so overwhelming it barely mattered.
I’ve heard hot young emcees before, but where Rojas really separates himself from the pack is in his ability to expand his vision beyond his immediate world, or to explore his immediate world in innovative ways. Just take the album’s standout track Tic Toc, a gripping cut featuring Rojas in full blown storytelling mode, or the intensely personal Sympathy for the Devil, a track that has him speaking through the voice of his father, a father who left his family. There’s a very short list of rappers who can make tracks like this, and Rojas is on it. You may call him The Natural, but I call him the future.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Nov 19, 2009
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