SHARP-DRESSED MAN Rok.
I emailed Edgewood-bred lyricist Romen Rok last week following the release of his highly-anticipated full-length platter Absolutely! and asked just how he would describe his brand of hip-hop to the casual listener: “Fun guy rap” was the response. Rahlo (as known by friends and peers) may have been rolling his eyes at the question, but the answer is accurate enough, and defines Romen Rok’s mindset when crafting rhymes and rocking stages.
“This album is 14 years in the making,” Romen Rok declared a few weeks ago during his packed CD release party at Firehouse 13, jumping onstage in a full-zip blue jumpsuit with fur hood and tanning goggles. The first time I caught Rok’s verbal skills in action was fall of ’08 at Jake’s Bar & Grill with collaborator Joe Beats.
“When people go out at night they want to be entertained and feel happy,” he told me following the insane performance. “I’m not scared to look ridiculous and make people laugh because in the end I know I’m no joke on the mic.”
An October ’08 blog entry following the show read: “I know I sound like ‘the boy who cried album,’ but it’s on the way. Guaranteed.” Nineteen months later and, hell yes, Absolutely! is worth the wait. Romen Rok excels in killing with kindness, but don’t let the positively-charged bars fool you into thinking he’s soft or preachy. The album perfectly displays Romen’s diversified vocal portfolio, spitting fast or slow, sprinkling in double entendres (“They ain’t got bars, they got bad service”) and novel wordplay. Rok is here to let y’all know the days of screw-facing and flossing in rap music are over. “Only time I’m ballin’ is when I’m cryin’ my eyes out,” he states on “Never Too Much,” which opens the album, followed by standout banger “Cuckoo’s Nest” (produced by ESH the Monolith). Warning: this sick beat will induce a spontaneous Kid ’n Play kickstep. Some tracks, like “Crash Test,” “Runnin’ with Scissors,” and the tribute track “Lou Diamondz Forever,” have been streaming on his site for a few years, but made the final cut.
“Some of the songs are ancient and some are fresh and new,” Rok said, “and I couldn’t eliminate a track off the project because it wasn’t brand new. Fuck all that, that’s some amateur shit.
“I didn’t want to re-record vocals for ‘Lou’ because I wrote and recorded it just a few days after Lou passed, and I didn’t want to lose the feeling there,” he told me.
Influential local friends came out in force for Absolutely!; Symmetry mixed the album, and DJ AL Bums and Joe Beats offered their highly-respected services, with overall production help from ESH. I spoke with Rok last week and inquired about the long delay.
“This is my first project where I organized everything myself, from scheduling studio time to getting the right company to replicate the CD to getting the artwork and photographs straight,” he said.
“And there was a time where I didn’t work on music at all, just working my day job all the time and totally miserable with music. But I finally decided to get my shit together and focus on daily short-term goals for the album.”