4Overall Score

roosh-williams-unorthodox-coverRoosh Williams – Unorthodox
2015; Independent
iTunes | “Super Support Package”

In 2015, Roosh Williams is humbler and yet hungrier than he’s ever been.

Williams exists as a walking contradiction in Houston rap – he raps with the utmost braggadocios, a cockiness and self-assuredness in demeanor and delivery. But the real-life Roosh is much more calculating. He’s subtle, never flashy, and presents himself as an underdog. He piggybacked off the release of his deja Roo: Times Have Changed project, released in 2013, and parlayed that into an EP with an emerging mobile company and focused on delivering powerhouse live performances. But Roosh found himself sidelined by a literal injury in 2014. The accident wasn’t life-threatening, but it was momentum changing.

Leave it to Roosh to go about the recovery of himself and his artistry in a, well, “unorthodox” way. In February, the Tehran Don of Houston released his long-awaited follow-up to deja Roo; and if times had changed before, on Unorthodox, they’re never going back to what they were.

For starters, Unorthodox is much less dependent on appearances. deja Roo was commercially loaded: big name special guests like Tony Williams and Action Bronson appeared on nearly half of the album. Unorthodox, in contrast, has only three features on its eleven tracks, including the legendary Scarface on “The Deep End.” The star power is minimized, allowing Roosh to take more of a center stage on the LP.

Unorthodox is sonically distinctive; the sound is as essential to the Unorthodox experience as Roosh’s rhymes are. Its titular intro starts out with sweeping violins that give the song a classical feel, but the violins are soon devoured (but not drowned out) by hard knocking rock drums. Loud instrumentals abound, some marrying trap with rock (“Rdouble”) and others that seem lifted from the vaults of 90s hip-hop (Trakksounds on the boards for “Squad” and “Whip It,” with its clever Daz Band sample). “Woman on My Persian Rug,” with Sharpsoundz’s snake charmer-esque beat, is what Aladdin and Jasmine might have taken their magic carpet ride along to if Houston was the “whole new world” they were cruising through. And m. Simp lights up “Goodness Gracious” with four minutes of head-rocking bombast. Other strong production comes via DaStunna Beats, Lacemode, Albie Dickson, Oktoker1st and Z-Will.

What’s always set Williams apart from his rap peers, is his emphasis on technique rather than punchlines. Unorthodox is a testament of Roosh’s rhyming ability. He’s in the zone from the jump on “Unorthodox,” and adds bite to his delivery on the track immediately after, lead single “Extraordinary.” On “Rdouble,” he speeds up his flow to accompany Blev’s vicious drums and rock guitars. And he fires off lines without a break alongside GT Garza on “Whip It.” Thus, the album’s more tempered moments, like “Persian Rug” and the two-piece introspective outro of “Hardway” and “Without A Doubt,” serve as spaces where Roosh where can catch his breath, metaphorically and physically.

But the prevailing theme of Unorthodox is aggression. There’s an anger that pulses through a majority of the album. “Hardway” has Roosh decrying the superficial and acknowledging the “chip on his shoulder” that drives him. The posse cut “Squad” feels fun, but there’s a playful sinisterness to it within Roosh’s taunts (“You ain’t the biggest motherfucker, in this muh’fucker/so I guess your only option, is to watch and be a witness, motherfucker!). And on “Deep End,” Williams calls out the devil and insists he’s outgrown childish, dishonest people and their “sippy cups.” The anger gives “Without A Doubt’s” even more weight as a solid outro, the track serving as a therapeutic victory lap where Roosh sounds at least genuinely thankful to still be here. It isn’t menacing, but it DOES feel as though he’s taking aim at an unnamed target subliminally throughout the project

So who is this mystery target? Anyone who’s ever doubted Roosh, anyone who’s ever put “Rdouble” at the bottom. Unorthodox, for him, represents more than just the music. It embodies the struggle to get where you’ve gotten and the hunger that prevents you from being comfortable once you’re there. When everyone else is doing the same thing, it tends to get a little stale. By doing it his own way and being just a little Unorthodox, Roosh Williams stands apart and does this rap shit better than most.