Waiting For The Punch Line: Riff Raff's Peach Panther

Molly Lambert on the latest from the Houston rapper

Depending on how seriously you choose to take his music, Riff Raff is either a comedian, a rapper, or both. He's better known for being the (alleged) inspiration for James Franco’s cornrowed Spring Breakers character, Alien — a parody of the parody that is Riff Raff — than for any particular song or verse of his own. His entire image is built around the ridiculousness of rap excess, as documented on his Instagram, which shows him living a high life that is outsized for his modicum of fame. He's basically the living embodiment of when dudes on MTV Cribs had a lot of shiny new brass furniture. The tension in the Riff Raff persona comes from the fact that he never breaks character. He wouldn't be the first to mine great art from this sort of unsettling performance of is-this-person-for-real?, but Riff Raff is unsettling in a different way, closer to a theme park character. What drives someone to don the mask? Doesn’t he get hot in there?

Riff Raff’s second studio album, Peach Panther, shows us a Riff Raff we can recognize and laugh with, but also one who plays it curiously straight. The MC’s greatest comedic claim is his Twitter account; his tweets are unquestionably his purest form, and on his best days he’s a better tweeter than a rapper. He recently tweeted, "MY NEXT ALBUM WiLL BE A 100% ALL AMERiCAN COUNTRY ALBUM CALLED TRUCK STUFF & BUTTERSCOTCH BUTTS," which is a great idea. Instead, we got Peach Panther, which feels like a pastiche — an album without cohesion or theme, over beats that sound like they belong to someone else.

Peach Panther's highs and lows are often conjoined in the same song: "Only in America" makes the very questionable choice to sample Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the top, and the even more questionable choice to alternate "I have a dream" with Riff saying "I sip codeine" in the outro. Yet! The song also features one of Peach Panther's more memorable hooks: a hypnotic repetition of Riff Raff saying "Only Americans eat duck sauce." That's the catch: The more hammy and disjointed Riff Raff goes, the better he is. When he raps straightforwardly about jewels and leans on “Carlos Slim,” it falls flat.

Judging by his G-Eazy and J-Doe collaboration "Mercedez," Riff Raff might be trying to get serious, or at least less weird. And while G-Eazy makes Riff Raff sound like Pimp C when they're set side by side, Riff Raff fares less well when paired with distinctive and deliberate MCs like Gucci Mane and Danny Brown on "I Drive By." The beats on the album — by producers like Cash Fargo, Juice 808, and Top Secret Productions — are decent, if occasionally dated and generic, trap. There are enough real rappers doing good guest spots to make the album more than just a function of Riff Raff’s delusion, but with production that feels like an afterthought, Peach Panther ultimately rests on how novel listeners find Riff Raff's punch lines.

"Chris Paul," a sing-songy ode to hitting the mall and balling like Clippers point guard Chris Paul, is a spiritual sequel to “White Iverson,” the 2015 hit that gave Bieber BFF Post Malone a career. Not only because it's about a basketball player, but also because Riff Raff is the prequel to Post Malone — they're both white suburban dudes who seemingly believe they can peach-pick elements of black culture and call it a career, without having to so much as explain themselves or their cornrows. (In fairness, #notallwhiterappersfromtexas are poseurs: Paul Wall’s string of 2000s hits, with their memorable cadences, were legitimately good.) "Chris Paul" is totally catchy, and the obvious highlight of the album. Yet it lacks the weird ennui that made "White Iverson" such a hit — the kind of vaguely strange vibe you'd expect Riff Raff to be able to supply in abundance.

But as we know from the last half decade, viral internet heat is rarely a reliable predictor of actual success. If Riff Raff is a meme rapper, he's getting lazy with the reposts. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the lyrics on Peach Panther are too connected to actual reality. Way too many of them refer to cars, or Versace, or diamonds. If I want reality, in whatever form, I’ll choose Chance, Migos, Geto Boys, or Dreezy. What I really want from Riff Raff is what he has set us up for: the joy of him rapping about garbage nonsense all the time. I want him to free himself from the persona by letting it evolve, or curdle, hideously, in the Texas heat. Maybe that’s asking for an imaginary third dimension where there are only two. But, really, he ought to make TRUCK STUFF & BUTTERSCOTCH BUTTS.