Double R Volume 1: Visions
Ricky Roosevelt is Jared Morris, a Minnesotan who came to Lawrence to attend KU. His SoundCloud profile says he’s from “Anywhere, United States.” His music makes him sound alternately like an alien and like someone who’s spent an incredible amount of time listening to hip-hop and internalizing it, figuring out how to filter everything he’s heard, whether it was a Golden-era classic he heard growing up or the latest Internet rapper going viral.
The Internet might be that Anywhere, or at least it's where he's likely to be encountered, like many of the most interesting hip-hop talents in 2016. Ricky Roosevelt has spent the last year parceling out to his SoundCloud and Bandcamp pages songs that are spacey and wordy, transmissions from somewhere strange.
Whether appearing on his own pages or those of the Lawrence collective Vivid Zebra (of which he's affiliated), the related/friendly collective Intelligent Sound or other unknown entities, the songs appear within the clutter of the Web-like signals. A late-night explorer might stumble across Ricky Roosevelt's music after following a trail of clues — attention-catching or familiar names of producers or collaborators, links that lead to links upon links.
Though it runs a quick 23 minutes, Double R Volume 1: Visions is his first full-length — and it sounds like a concertedly intentional debut. While it carries all of the mumbling wit of the one-off songs Roosevelt released last year, he presents the album as a jumping-off point — Volume 1.
The first song, “Origin,” contains shout-outs to his heroes and influences: A Tribe Called Quest, Curren$y, Digable Planets, The Arcade Fire, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. He thanks his mom for never holding him back, and declares, “I see a vision of the future.”
A few songs later, on “Trooper,” he’s putting his vision in more tangible and immediate terms. It’s a statement of creative independence and determination that vividly displays his understated yet precise rhyming style. He is not a showstopping MC, but one whose thoughts, be they esoteric or mundane, flow out in a natural way not too bound by distinctions between rapping and singing, or by defined styles. He sounds like an amateur, in the sense that he’s doing something he loves and figuring out how to make his mark with it.
The album was produced by Cyberocean (Henrik Thomasson), from Sweden, another sign that Ricky Roosevelt is a product of our 2016 Internet/social media culture. Cyberocean’s music has a paranoid beauty and cold but warm future-world aesthetic that feels right for a rapper who’s liable to reference the Matrix and casually mention that he’s anticipating the day when the aliens arrive. One subtext behind Visions is the idea that the world is ever-shifting — ever-crumbling even — so there’s a need for someone with heart and determination to follow a unique creative path and build something that stands up as his own.
“Finale” emerges as one last chance to make a strong impression on listeners, an argument that Roosevelt’s a new artist to remember. It’s his most breathless rapping, his quickest traversing of puns, metaphors and playful turns of phrase. He works in references to his own hunger for success, his love for cartoons and art, the natural dodging of police that African Americans are forced to do in everyday life, his gratitude for fans (and potential fans) and how the departed leave their marks on the still-living. He also presents Visions as “a diamond in the rough.” It’s something he’s been trying to do throughout, while convincing us it might be true.
Kansas City-based Dave Heaton writes about music for PopMatters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.