Makin Waves finally catches up to Jersey Shore rapper Chris Rockwell’s latest LP, “Ten Years in the Breaking,” to preview a slew of summer shows with his new band, the Ballroom Riot.
Chris Rockwell is a clever wordsmith who has had books of his works published and won national poetry slams, and been named Poet Laureate of Asbury Park. As a rapper, the Jersey Shore-based artist also has dropped several records, the latest of which is Ten Years in the Breaking. The title is a double meaning that refers to the decade in which Rockwell has emerged as a regional touring act.
The eight-song collection also spans, details and chronicles the simultaneous breakups of several romantic relationships. Throughout, Rockwell trades in his biting humor and suburban spunk for earnest emotion and vivid imagery.
Much more light, sensitive and mellow than most of what Rockwell has recorded and released since 2004, Breaking also is a departure from an extensive collaboration with “Chill” Will Smith, aka New Star, with the exception of one track. Easily relatable and quite excellent with the wordplay, Rockwell waxes on failed long-distance love, divergent paths of the heart and the often all-too-true notion that music and marriage don’t mix. While some of his finest rhymes surface, Breaking lacks the intricate beats and effortless flow of some of his previous outings, particularly those with Smith.
For instance, “Going Away Party (Verrazano Song),” which ponders the hardships of an impending long-distance relationship while providing a colorful description of the couple’s last night together, struggles with its beats and flow. The beats are simple and the vocal approach seems stuck in a clunky arrangement. However, the verses in “Going Away” are fantastic, especially this great line: “Only sober one in the room and I still feel dizzy.”
I also like how the opening imagery of the girlfriend dumping an empty bottle of wine on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge after getting her pregame on comes full circle within the storyline. The bottle symbolizes the guy’s sorrow about his girlfriend’s departure and the inevitable end to their already troubled relationship.
“Airplane Mode,” the sole Smith-recorded track, is another look at a rocky romance, this one from the seat of a plane bound for a vacation next to a woman other than the one who inspired the song. Again, clever rhymes and a strong story carry the track, but the delivery is rather whiny and the melody and arrangement pale in comparison to other Rockwell-Smith colabs, such as 2016’s Rockwell Rebel Radio LP and their charitable 2017 dual side project, The Rock Star Scenario EP.
Similarly, the musical drag of the closing “Window Pane” weakens emotional lyrics and their delivery as they compare tears from the inside to the rain on the outside. Beyond that, Breaking is great, especially the hard-hitting “Breathe Easy,” which deviates from the breakup theme with advice on how to navigate life’s pressure and pain.
I also really like “East Coast Heart You,” a romantic spin on the East Coast vs. West Coast rap battle, but one of the heart. Once again, distance has strained a relationship, this time between a touring rapper on the West Coast and the love he left behind back East. Interesting imagery and rhymes — such as “I’m crashing with some friends out on tour. I can hear them having sex in the room next door” — and a more upbeat accompaniment and vocal make this one of the best “Breaking” tracks.
Highlights also include the nostalgic single, “I Made U a Mix Tape,” and the opening fun of the quasi-title track, “RC Cola and Five Dollar Rum.” Both look back at halcyon days when life and love were easier.
Rockwell’s latest book of poetry book will publish in October with a section featuring “Breaking” lyrics. That will be followed by a national tour. In the meantime, he has playing steady with new backing band, the Ballroom Riot. Upcoming shows include July 21 at FM in Jersey City with Murdock, Johnny Wolf, Jay Hollin, Frankie Metalz and DJ Leeroy Green; July 27 at Chubby Pickle in Highlands with Joe Miller and Johnny Five Is Alive; Aug. 16 at Asbury Park Music Foundation; Aug. 18 at Art in the Park, Toms River, and Aug. 23 at the Second Annual Rap vs. Punk show at the Saint in Asbury Park with Chill Smith, Sister Munch, This Year’s Comeback, Miles Nxbxdy, Trashboat Dickinson, Trapbang and DJ Flea Market.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.