Pazz & Jop: Riff Raff Is Keeping It Surreal

He's believable as a hip-hop star because nothing he says is true


See the full 2012 Pazz and Jop Critics Poll.


Miguel Is Living The Dream
Sex takes center stage on his sophomore album
By Brian McManus

Frank Ocean's Sea Change
His musical and personal honesty made waves in 2012
By Eric Sundermann

A Trip Through Fiona Apple's Wheelhouse
The singer-songwriter wrestles with the idea of mind as machine
By Audra Schroeder

Kendrick Lamar, Finally Compton's Most Wanted
It took quite some time for the rapper to become an overnight success
By Jeff Weiss

The Confounding, Inexplicable Splendor of Rapper Future
Space is the place
By Rob Harvilla

Pazz & Jop: Taylor Swift, Grimes, and Lana Del Rey: The Year in Blond Ambition
How dare they have an image
By Jessica Hopper

You Don't Know Jack (White)
After a dozen years in the public eye, the man proves he can still surprise us
By Alan Light

Riff Raff Is Keeping It Surreal
He's believable as a hip-hop star because nothing he says is true
By Ben Westhoff

Travel Tips From Touring Bands
By Kiernan Maletsky

A Note on Crap
True art lives where no one is paying attention. Or probably not.
By David Thorpe


Top 40 Albums
The year's big albums, from Frank Ocean on down

Top 42 Singles
"Call Me Maybe" kicks off the top of the pops

Pazz & Jop Comments
The who, the what, the where, and the why, why, why

The Top 25 Album Covers
A lovingly hand-assembled gallery

Tabulation Notes
Weak consensus versus inspiring diversity
By Glenn McDonald

Perhaps he possesses some weird form of integrity, perhaps he's a pathological liar, or perhaps he simply thinks the game is silly. Maybe he hasn't given it much thought, though impersonating Gucci Mane 24/7 requires great discipline. But at this point, the question of whether Riff Raff is "serious" is moot—even he probably doesn't know, and were we to find out it would be worse than learning about Santa Claus. We want Riff Raff to be real, and so he is. He certainly stays true to himself, whatever that may be, and that's as strong a hip-hop value as any.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help

Riff Raff is a RIP OFF. He has stolen music from truly great musicians. The Riff Raff track "White Sprite" contains an unauthorized copy of the song "Labyrinth of Dreams" originally written and recorded by Nox Arcana and released on their album GRIMM TALES (© 2008).

Go check it out.


I would like to independently verify that Riff Raff is, indeed, real. His validity is derived, not from our desires for him to be genuine, but from the particular historiological role that he is taking to shape the perception of rap, rap music, and rap artists themselves. While Riff Raff's distinct social milieu may seem odd or fabulous to some, his style does very little to undermine the intense provocation of his lyrical emphasis. Riff Raff follows in traditions of symbolism that have always been a vibrant undercurrent of hip-hop, spoken-word music, and prose, dating back millennia. Far from being deceptive, Riff Raff's claims are modest exaggerations, figures of speech, or are largely hypothetical. One would be hard-pressed to find anyone in vehement disagreement with his statement that "...I could-a played for the Chargers..." or a single person that would form a reasoned argument as to why Riff Raff was not "...rap game Ferris Bueller...". These are not questions of authenticity as much as they are questions of aesthetics, which, by almost all accounts, Riff Raff answers distinctly apropros. While Riff Raff is overtly self-diminutive at times, he also uses artful exaggeration to his tremendous advantage, in homage to both the pathological and the narcissistic qualities that have come to dominate rap narratives, respectively. His phrases are filled with unique references that can be nearly indistinguishable from non sequitur, especially to a casual listener, but regardless provide a magical counterpoint to the incessant repetition of stayed, washed-out symbolic logic that current rap music has offered. More insidiously, perhaps, but definitely more telling of the diminishing returns of a career in pop music, opportunities for apparent non sequiturs in his narratives belie apt, practical, and ethically justifiable opportunities for product placement marketing. Marginal decreases in record sale income for artists has led to a broader acceptance of corporate branding, and Riff Raff not only seems a willing participant, but by flashing MTV and BET tattoos already symbolizes the ethics of using advertisement as a tool to promote ones own interests. His knowing acceptance of his function in this broader capacity has only served to augment his appeal among his followers and ferment additional controversy among his critics, both of which have given further rise to his popularity. Riff Raff has navigated the distinct dialectic in rap culture between style and substance with the wit of Colbert and the grace of Tupac, and achieved historical importance as a point of reference for the ethical self-interest always on the horizon of the hip-hop pathos.



New York Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri