Rob Roy—King Warrior Magician Lover
Rob Roy is without question one of the most uniquely talented and strangely compelling artists to ever emerge from the pressure cooker that is Northeast Florida’s music scene. He first came to prominence while fronting the seminal rap-rock combo Cue Estey, who recorded and toured throughout the region during the early part of the 21st century before scattering to the wind. After attaining virtual legend status in Florida, he modulated west to Los Angeles some years back, incubating his style in the ruthless aggression of Cali’s punishing, unforgiving music scene.
His 2005 debut, Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents LP, was an instant classic before the term was in circulation; it remains an undisputed masterpiece today, for those lucky few thousand who ever got to hear it. It was self-produced before the explosion of indie rap labels and the broader pro-musician changes to the industry facilitated by the Internet had really taken flight within Northeast Florida. Had it occurred five years later, someone would have surely ridden it to the bank, and it remains a minor mystery why his early brilliance went largely unexploited even in LA.
Odds are those days of being overlooked may be over. Rob Roy’s second album sounds almost completely different from the first; only his voice (which sounds kind of like a cross between Eminem and Kanye West) remains. The sense of humor that permeates everything he does comes through extra-clear here.
Rob Roy has always had a gift for self-promotion, and more than enough ego to maximize his obvious talent. It helps that he’s a longtime associate of Alyssa Key, auteur of the Love Brigade clothing brand, a legit master of the networking arts whose reign as Jacksonville’s Best Party Hostess was a key point for the synthesis and fusion of what were then still mostly disparate styles and personalities within those circles. Her later emergence as a tastemaker on the national level is no surprise at all.
I wrote about him for Folio in 2006 (see below), and even then he came across as an almost entirely polished talent. This serves him well in a business where ego is as fundamental to success as the music itself. He’s also smart enough to know what listeners want to hear. Rob Roy is, at heart, an entertainer. His chops are sharp, as one would expect from anyone with his pedigree, and so is his sense of rhythm and timing. His music is always perfect for parties, but it holds up just well to a solitary listen.
Roy Roy has always had one of the most unique flows in all of hip-hop, but he’s not placing as much emphasis on the speed and verbal dexterity that defined his debut. He is more about servicing the beats, which are certainly of an accessible, radio-friendly nature. His current work will invite comparisons to people like Drake, Lil’ Wayne and the Cool Kids. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that; hip-hop is a fundamentally self-referential music, which is why mashups and remixes are so popular. It would be fun to hear a Rob Roy mixtape, wherein he raps over some of those beats that have become the genre’s equivalent of jazz standards (“Grindin’”, “A Millie”, “Black Mags”, etc.).
All that said, it feels like something is missing, but I have no idea what, and what there is deserves an intensive listen. With King Warrior Magician Lover, Rob Roy has succeeded in producing a strong follow-up to one of the finest albums of the decade.
email@example.com; July 9, 2010
The Charismatic Enigma
One of the most impressive debut recordings of recent years is the product of former Cue Estey vocalist Rob Roy, who is among the artists opening for Ghostface at Fuel on April 5. Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents is a startlingly sophisticated work of distinct modernist appeal. If some albums are clearly the work of artists trying to fit into the boundaries of whatever musical genre(s) they’re into, Roy Roy’s rings through with the force of his own personality, and that’s what makes it so effective.
Soft-spoken but verbose, Rob Roy’s showmanship is only hinted at in person — in the tilt of a hat or the rhythm of a handshake. He was born in Livingston, New Jersey, but has lived here since he was a toddler, attending Stanton Prep and graduating UNF with a fine arts degree. He vividly recalls taping the old Bigga Rankin “Cool Runnings” radio show on his boombox as a kid, and his early years watching shows from the crowd. Cue Estey went over big with regional audiences, and while Rob was hardly the dominant member, he was the band’s public face more often than not.
“Four years is a magical number,” he says, noting that the three most profound transitions to this phase of his life — college, his relationship, the Cue Estey experience — all took about four years and ended around the same time in 2004. “It was like starting from scratch — ground zero. In my mind, I felt like I had nothing, because everything that was something to me was no longer there.” The album’s title reflects what Rob viewed as “taking a nothing situation and making something out of it”; it’s also something of a political statement, in that “cash rules everything, basically — it does.”
In addition to his musical influences, which range from Snoop Dogg, Tupac and Dr. Dre to Andre 3000, Jodeci and Luke Skyywalker, Rob Roy takes great pleasure from the world of stand-up comedy. “What draws me to it is that it has so many layers. Yeah, people get a rise out of it and they laugh, but also you peel back the layers of things, with wit. And that’s something missing from a lot of music today.” The influence is obvious in his live show, where his movements and behavior are more reminiscent of a Vaudeville villain than a baby-faced band-man. The result is well worth a look-see.
The album was almost entirely produced by Willie Evans, Jr. of Asamov [now known as the AB’s]. He’d known Evans for years through the scene, and lining up one of the nation’s rising young beat-smiths to helm his production was, in his words, “one of the biggest steps.” Evans’ laissez-faire style pushed Rob to step up his songwriting, a challenge he mostly rises to. “I probably scrapped three or four” of his first compositions for the project; the first one to click was “Ooooh!”, one of the album’s strongest tracks.
Another factor was Luke Walker (of the band The Summer Obsession), who did all of the recording and mixing. Under his tutelage “I came to enjoy recording, rather than dreading it as I had previously.” He also added tons of miscellaneous sounds. Backing vocals were provided by Brandeis Bing (“Hey Buddy”), Alice Fletcher (“R.O.B.R.O.Y.”) and Clare Marshall (“Oh, F*** My Brain”). Bing, along with Cherub Stewart, comprise “The Last Minutes,” Rob’s back-up singers. Aaron Abraham (of Whole Wheat Bread) turns up in two of the spoken interludes, too.
The album’s last track, “Sadly to Say”, was built around a track provided by DJ Winks, aka former bandmate Sela. It’s quite different from the rest of the material, offering a glimpse of Rob Roy’s immediate future. “I’d like to do this as a career,” says Rob, who defines that as “not having any side hustles. … Everyone that does this stuff, they don’t do it just so the walls of their bedroom can hear it. I’d think that everybody would like a huge audience to be able to hear what they do one day. I guess I’d like to know that the sacrifices I’ve made to this point weren’t in vain.” He is soon to follow up with an R&B project cheekily titled The R.N.B.R.O.Y. EP. If Rob Roy can succeed in getting Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents into the right hands this year, he will be well on his way to realizing his own immense potential.
firstname.lastname@example.org; March 20, 2006