After spending the majority of this year incarcerated, New Jersey native RetcH has been closing out 2017 with a strong swoop. In addition to the release of the bouncy “First Day Out,” his voice has also been sampled on N.E.R.D.’s single “Lemon” featuring Rihanna. Now he returns with Still Up, his first unified musical foray since 2016’s Lean and Neck. Clocking in at a succinct 25 minutes, Still Up’s 8 tracks march cohesively along with RetcH displaying a series of frantic new flows over eerie and airy production. RetcH uses the sparseness of the beats to stretch and bend his flow into previously unseen formations. Very few people were involved with the creation of this project and RetcH is the only voice to be featured on the tape. Similarly, RetcH only employs three producers for the project, so the music stays within a very specific sonic pocket. The majority of the beats are crafted by J. Breeze with additional production being handled by TakenForGranted and J. Dot.  

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RetcH, like may of his contemporaries, has become just as famous for his music as he has become infamous for his online and offline antics. Given the heavily saturated age of sensationalism we’re living in, large swaths of fans connect most immediately to the images portrayed rather than the content of the music. Rather than connecting with the artist at an empathetic level, the desire instead is for a spectacle to gawk at and emulate -- i.e. the rash of Polo wearing, Backwood-smoking, Internet kids of 2013. This isn’t inherently a bad thing as artists are public figures, however this kind of feedback loop can cause fans to forget that art is ultimately a reflection of an artist’s interactions with the world and, is more often than not, a coping mechanism. It’s deeper than just the rapping and one cannot forget that there are real life ramifications for the street life. On every tape that RetcH has released he’s shouted out different fallen friends or incarcerated acquaintances. Beyond whatever image of rap invincibility that is being portrayed, the urgency of his deliveries come from the knowledge that jail or death could be around any corner.

As a result this new work is not so much about redemption as it is about becoming wiser, living with more caution, and balling through hardship. Art is about growth and progression no matter how it manifests and it is encouraging to see RetcH out of jail and refocusing himself on making music and remaining a free man. Too many young black musicians are lost in the prime of their artistry because of legal complications and often when (if) they’re released they are unable to recapture the momentum they were achieving before prison. This getback mentality is universal throughout the project and almost every song on the project contains a line about not returning to jail. 

The most definitive thing about the a tape is the narrowness of RetcH’s tunnel vision. Even though all of the songs are strongly trap influenced, they’re also pretty deeply introspective at times. On “I Need” RetcH’s lists an extensive series of desires range from the wholesome (needing his jeans tailored exact, and his son to be straight) to the extravagant (a new pair of Balenciagas every week and a tour with Rihanna) however the hunger for more is very palpable. “I need me a jet and I need me a rollie/ I just caught a cold so I need me some codeine/ I need me an advance so I ain’t gonna post it/ I need me some space so I’m all on my lonesome.” The tape is sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek lines like this where RetcH references some of his more reckless behavior and suggests how he’s changed. It seems as if one of the most important lessons RetcH has learned is about the separation of his private and public lives. He repeats a similar sentiment on “Ordinary” starting the chorus off saying that he, “cannot wild out in public”. Although the beats are somewhat different from the ones he usually employs, they are all of such similar tempos that the tracks blur into each other. The tape would have benefitted from greater beat diversity, especially given the type of versatility that he’s displayed in his music in the past-- here there was very little deviation to one sound and stance. He’ll still offhandedly “jump outta choppers top of buildings into coupes without the ceiling” and rocking kicks the “color chameleon,” but for the most part, the cadences remain fairly simple and snappy for easy head-bumping.

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In terms of energy, this project sits somewhere between the coarseness of Finesse the World and the stormy and syrupy Lean and Neck. The anger and sadness is less felt on this tape than it was on those works, and instead it’s been replaced with the fire for conquest. The darkness is nothing new to RetcH’s music however this is one of the first times that I feel like he’s trying to moderate how deeply he sinks into it. Given the intensity and brevity of the project, it seems as though this is merely a taste of what is to come for RetcH in 2018. Despite being a trap project, in between the countless designer name drops and threats there are lines that display real vulnerability. For example on “Fresh as a Bitch,” he discusses his favorite brands alongside nearly being set up for a crime he didn’t do, and casually slips in “they killed my man’s Ness on my birthday/ That shit hurt a nigga in the worst way/ I’m out here from Thursday to Thursday/ tryna run that shit up like a dirt race.” RetcH has to flex, not only for himself and his family, but for those who can no longer flex for themselves due to the cell and the grave. More than anything however the project’s primary purpose seems to be to remind listeners that despite a relatively turbulent year, RetcH has not been broken, but rather, he’s still up and still winning.