Jason Randall Smith
L7 EP Review
As a quick exercise, take your left hand and form the letter L with your thumb and index finger.
Now do the same thing with your right hand, but turn your fingers upside down. It should form
the number 7, right? Now place those fingers together and they should take on the shape of a
square. You have just stumbled upon the target audience for Rockwila’s L7 EP. This Kansas City
MC represents without apologies for the squares, the nerds, the geeks of society. This release was
designed to provide uplifting anthems for the downcast walking the earth, for all those who have
been ridiculed simply for being themselves.
Born Rashaad Wright, Rockwila knows a thing or two about being clowned for his upbringing.
The autobiographical “One In A Million” presents his frustrations in crystal clear fashion, lashing
back at those who question his Blackness simply because he’s more familiar with computers than
criminal activity. Producer S. Jones is the perfect partner in rhyme for Rockwila’s hyped-up style of
lyrical spit, creating big arena instrumentals that rock out hard, causing listeners to not just nod their
heads, but bang their heads. The backing track for “One In A Million” features erratic electronic
frequencies that race along punishing drums and crash cymbals. An operatic chorus fills in the gaps
with their sustained notes, adding a layer of euphoric ambience to this galvanizing anthem.
Whereas an earlier incarnation of this EP was a three-song single, the official release includes two
additional songs, “Hunger” and “You Don’t Believe In Me.” These songs act as opposite sides of the
same coin: one song a declaration of ambition, the other a defensive stance in the face of rejection.
“Hunger” is powered by dramatic organ riffs, piercing guitars, and cracks of thunder for percussion
that unfold into a halftime rhythm. Rockwila lands firmly on the beat and proceeds to lyrically rip
through it with precision, showing all within earshot that the only lifetime bid he’s currently serving
is his devotion to rocking microphones and moving crowds. The hissing cymbals and squishy snare
pads of “You Don’t Believe In Me” set the stage for his fight against another’s accusations and
putdowns. Rockwila laments, “Every single day I wait for the lecture” as spacey chords surround
him, a somber female vocal sample providing the hook.
S. Jones concocts a winner with “Rockstar,” placing the drums front and center. They punch with
such ferocity that you’d swear it was live. As Rockwila steps into the persona of an artist who lives
fast and crashes hard, wailing guitars carve out a melody that hints at danger on the horizon. “Geek
Squad” is yet another cut on this EP that calls for the revenge of the nerds. Musically desolate with
eerie piano lines and soulless snare smacks, Rashaad Wright emerges as a spokesperson for squares
everywhere, inviting them all to raise their fists in defiance.
In a rap world full of fake gangsters and pretending players, the L7 EP is certainly a welcome change
of pace. As Rockwila’s star continues to rise, let’s hope that he doesn’t fall prey to the scenarios that
plagued the protagonist of “Rockstar” and instead remains “One In A Million.”
Album: L7 EP
Reviewed by Jason Randall Smith
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
L7 EP Review
These days, there is a lot of dogma where hip-hop is concerned. Rappers are told that if
your music is hard as hell, you must be a thug and a gangsta rather than an intellectual.
Or, rappers are told that if you have any rock appeal, you’re probably “crossover”
rather than “street” or “hardcore.” But on his five-song L7 EP, Kansas City-based
rapper Rashaad Wright, a.k.a. Rockwila, shows that he has little patience with dogma
or narrow pigeonholing when it comes to hip-hop. And that outlook works well for the
L7 EP is hardcore rap, but by no means is it gangsta rap. And while this 2013 release
has a definite rock influence, Rockwila is not a radio-oriented pop-rapper. Rockwila
does things on his own individualistic terms, favoring an approach that is loud and
aggressive but intelligent and never thuggish just for the sake of being thuggish. In fact,
he expresses his independent mindset on “One in a Million,” declaring that he doesn’t
fit any of the negative stereotypes of rappers. No, Rockwila says, he wasn’t raised by
a single mother, and the fact that he had a father in the home when he was growing up
does not make him any less black. And no, he has not gotten his street cred by shooting
“One in a Million” contains one of the funniest lines on the album: “I f****d a ton of
black girls, but they don’t think I’m black/So I only date the white girls ‘cause they’re
crazy in the sack.” And the way he manages to be irreverent and shocking while getting
an important point across (the point being that some people think he’s less black because
he doesn’t think a long criminal record is something to be proud of or aspire to) is typical
of a lot of hardcore rap of the past.
In a sense, L7 EP is a throwback to a time when hardcore rappers such as Run-D.M.C.,
Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane and L.L. Cool J were in-your-face and hard as hell but
weren’t thuggish or gangsta about it. But L7 EP doesn’t sound like it was recorded back
in the 1980s. Rockwila’s rapping style certainly isn’t old school, and the production
on “One in a Million,” “Rockstar,” “Geek Squad,” “You Don’t Believe in Me” and
“Hunger” is far from old school.
Rockwila has cited Jay-Z (clearly one of the most talented New York City rappers of hiphop’s modern
era) as a major influence, and one can see that he shares Jay-Z’ fondness
for big, epic hooks (which is exactly what he delivers on “Geek Squad,” “Hunger” and
“Geek Squad” is a shout out to those who are not part of the “in crowd” and could care
less about it. And the interesting thing is the way Rockwila uses the word “geek” as
a badge of honor while being forceful and aggressive. Rockwila, in “Geek Squad,”
forcefully does his part to make the word “geek” a positive in hip-hop, which certainly
isn’t the type of thing that one generally expects from hardcore rap these days.
But then, Rockwila is obviously determined to be his own person. So “Geek Squad” fits
right into that.
On occasion, Rockwila does rap about money and material success, which is very
common in contemporary hip-hop. But he does it more from the perspective of an
outsider who is fighting to get ahead in the world.
Rockwila shows a lot of potential on his L7 EP, and in the future, it will be interesting
to see what the Kansas City resident comes up with on a full-length album. In the
meantime, L7 EP is an intriguing and memorable listen.
Review by Alex Henderson
4 stars out of 5