Smash Rockwell

Artist: CasualTitle: Smash RockwellRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Chris Yuscavage

He thinks he’s raw. That was the consensus on Oaktown-bred Hieroglyphics mainstay Casual at the turn of the century, as he dropped his aptly titled 2001 solo album, He Think He Raw. Long respected as a battle-rapping, metaphor-flipping member of the Hiero family, Raw was packaged and served up as an antagonistic and aggressive affirmation of Casual’s disdain for the rap game at the time. Now situated behind the desk of the Hiero Imperium playing more of a CEO role, Casual lets his alter ego do the talking on Casual Presents Smash Rockwell (Hiero Imperium), where he gets his swagger back smack-talking his way through concept tracks and punchlines alike.

Between handing out designer Gucci bodybags and Coogi caskets on the J-Zone-produced lead single, “Say That Then,” Smash Rockwell gets to taking names and putting wack rappers to bed. “Record labels don’t want me on after their rapper, ‘cause for real, I make ‘em look like PaRappa the Rappa,” Smash spits over a trademark sample-ridden Zone creation. “Smash Don’t Hurt ‘Em,” tamed by a set of pleasant flutes, and “Wakemup” follow similar take-no-prisoners verbal assault blueprints that befit the namesake of his alter ego. “Smash Rockwell is Casual at his finest,” he spits on the latter, laying a boast down that is as convincing as it is believable.

While he’s clearly carved his niche mixing metaphors with diverse wordplay though, Smash Rockwell’s standout tracks occur when Casual steps off the stage and into the world of creativity and concepts. “Single Mother” adopts and outdoes the same soul sample utilized on Jay-Z’s “Dear Summer,” with a trying tribute towards the females in the club with babysitters at home. “Styles” sticks to a script of teaching newjacks the different methods of formulating a rap style—from the “same word style” to the “three-syllable style”—“How-to” Hiero-style. Even “Bay Vs. Bricks,” which has the opportunity to dabble in mediocrity, pairs Casual and Young Zee for a unique take on a East Coast-West Coast battle.

Not everything is quite so smashin’ though, as the generic girl-grabbing “I’ll Hit That,” car anthem, “In the Whip,” and must-have Oakland ode on “OAKtown” all bog down an otherwise fresh use of the sometimes-overused alter ego angle. Smash Rockwell serves as a bridge between the battles, the block, and the Hiero history in the rap game for Casual though. Even perched behind his desk in a three-piece, he still thinks he’s raw. On Smash Rockwell, through his other half, Casual is.

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