** 1/2 (out of four)
Rockie Fresh likes cars. He likes buying cars ("In 2013/I plan to buy too many cars"). He likes talking about cars. He likes driving cars, and he likes driving metaphors: both of his higher-profile mixtape releases were named as such: last year’s popular “Driving 88” and now, “Electric Highway,” his first release after being signed to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group, a rap label named after the luxury Maybach automobile.
Imagining “Electric Highway” as a reflection of Rockie’s style actually works pretty well. Coasting on an effortless flow over some lush production, he sounds comfortable, on cruise control in the best way possible. Imagine Kanye’s “808s and Heartbreak” or Drake’s “Take Care” without the angst and general darkness, replace it with swagger and a warmer undercurrent of piano keys and bleep-bloops—that’s “Highway.” Rockie barely raps on songs like “The Lights” or “Lights Glow,” opting for a Cudi-esque croon, drenched in reverb and auto-tune.
When he does rap, Rockie’s rhymes often blend into the beat, his cadence vacillating between a Rick Ross heave-ho and 2 Chainz’ nimble drawl as he spits about usual fodder of women, clothes and, duh, cars. He’s so smooth that he’s best when complemented by another emcee, like the tenser Sasha Go Hard on the slinky, The xx-sampling “Show Me Something” or Curren$y’s more textured stoner flow on “Roll Up Right Now.” Sometimes though, he comes off like a schlocky Wiz Khalifa, like on the lethargic “Hold Me Down.”
He doesn’t drop a lot of explicit Chicago put-ons; not that that matters, but it’s a measure of where he’s come in the last year: from finding his niche as a smooth talker in a sea of bangers to finding his own lane in the world of major labels. The chilled-out neon aesthetic is derivative, sure, but its honed and fun, pulling off his low-key flexes with confidence.
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