Queens MC Rome Streetz released his Griselda Records debut Kiss The Ring on 9/30/22, a release date many hip-hop fans are calling the strongest of the year. But amidst the flurry of joints that dropped by Freddie Gibbs, Boldy James and Nicholas Craven, Kid Cudi, Mr. MFN eXquire, Prodigy (a posthumous LP), and more, Kiss The Ring is the one that’s kept my full attention. Here are ten reasons why I love it.
1. It exceeded my expectations. I’ve been checking for Rome Streetz for a while now, probably dating back to his project with Muggs. The song “Stone Cold Soul” solidified my interest in him, and put him in my heavy rotation (see video above). But there were two things more recently that truly made me a hardcore fan of Rome Streetz. His verse on Westside Gunn’s song “Uncle AL,” and this freestyle he did on Showoff Radio—which preceded the Gunn track but I didn’t discover it until around the same time last summer. Ever since, I’ve been highly anticipating his Griselda debut and keeping an eye out for everything he does. When there’s that much anticipation, it can be hard for a release to live up to the level of excitement you have for it, let alone exceed your expectations. But this did.
2. Rome Streetz got skillz. From a fellow MC’s perspective, his skills are downright impressive. Every verse is top-tier, from the wordplay to the voice to the delivery to the flow to the actual rhyming itself. His attention to detail is apparent—the way he makes multiple syllables and words in each bar rhyme with the next. Like on “Heart On Froze,” where he raps lines like, “Slice the G.O.A.T. throat like a voodoo ritual,” or, “I’m going global, they love my shit like a Bon Jovi vocal, this dope on Pro Tools.” He bodies that song, these are just a couple pull quote examples.
Also, his breath control and the way he turns corners at the end of bars is so seamless. And for someone who raps with what I would describe as a more straight-forward, traditional East Coast approach, his pocket is ill. To sum it up, Rome Streetz is nice as fuck with it, and this album showcases his pure rap skill in all its splendor. Consider this recent freestyle below “related content.”
3. The beats are fire. I mean, there’s no better way to sum it up. The production on this album is incredible. From the moment that “Big Steppa” beat dropped, I knew this shit was gonna be right up my alley. “Big Steppa” is instantly up there with Roc Marciano and Alchemist’s “Quantum Leap” as my favorite beat of the year. But that’s just the beginning. The beats keep hitting one after the other, and they actually have drums, which considering the drumless trend that’s made a big impact on the current “underground” sound, it’s nice to hear a majority of the cuts on here actually have banging drums. I think I was like eight or nine tracks in before I wasn’t completely in love with a beat, and even then it wasn’t like the shit was wack. Props to Camoflauge Monk, Conductor Williams, Daringer, Denny Laflare, DJ Green Lantern, Alchemist, and Sovren who all did their thing on Kiss The Ring, and to Rome and executive producer slash curator Westside Gunn for the proper selections.
4. Conductor we have a problem! Speaking of Conductor Williams—yo! That “Conductor we have a problem” drop is so lit. He ODs on it at points, and honestly, it makes me love it even more. Like when the beat switches up on “Reversible???” and he lets it ring off, that shit gets me so amped. I’m well aware this isn’t something new, but for some reason on this project that drop really connected with me and is one of the highlights. The fan tweet about it above is hilarious, too—although according to a follow-up tweet, that same fan doesn’t seem to appreciate it as much as I do. To me, this is the same type of rap fan that probably didn’t like mixtape DJs “talking” on tapes back in the day, whereas I always thought it enhanced the listening experience and made it more exciting.
5. The guest spots are perfectly placed. Make no mistake, Rome Streetz is the star voice on Kiss The Ring, but his supporting cast of Griselda affiliates show up right on time throughout the album. A calm, collected Conway steps up first on “Soulja Boy” and questions his so-called competition like, “You’re so timid, it’s like, who even considered you nice?” Then Stove God Cooks compares moving vinyl to crack on “Blow 4 Blow” with a great line, “I took that wax and went Daniel Son,” before opening the door for GxFR favorite Benny The Butcher to close out the track. And as expected, executive producer and Griselda kingpin Westside Gunn represents too (see video below), as do label-mates Armani Caesar and Boldy James on the back half of the LP. It’s a family affair for sure, as everyone takes a seat at the table—with Rome middling, of course.
6. Rome’s rapping with purpose. Okay, so like I said above, I’ve been checking for Rome Streetz for a while now. But to be honest, I’m not someone who’s well-versed in his entire catalog. I’m sure I missed a lot of his early stuff. I mean, to this day, I’ve still never listened to any of the Nose Kandy projects in full, and I only recently caught wind of “96 Nauti Windbreaker Shit” which I’m sure his “day one” fan base will crucify me for. Again, my fandom really started with the Muggs project, and fully formed when I heard him killing it on Gunn’s shit—I’m still playing catch-up. On Kiss The Ring, I can sense Rome knows new listeners just being introduced to him via Griselda may be even less familiar with his work than I am, and in many ways he’s using this label debut as a full-on display of how ill he is to solidify his spot in the elite MC category.
I watched the doc he recently released covering his European tour trip (see below), and it’s clear from his appreciation of the fans over there knowing his music word-for-word and the opportunity he’s been given to tour off “raps I recorded in my living room” that he doesn’t take any of what’s currently happening in his rap career for granted. But it’s not like Rome comes out and blatantly says, “To those of you who are just now being introduced to me since I signed with Griselda, I’d like to make it abundantly clear that no one can fuck with me on the mic.” He shows and proves it. There’s hunger in his raps. He’s spitting vicious, relentless bars, without letting his foot off the gas. He repeatedly shits on other rappers, calling them “garbage” and “trash,” and then proceeds to take them all out with verse after verse of slick, street and cipher bravado, connecting his past experiences as a street hustler to his current lifestyle as a Griselda ace. He’s out for glory, and lines like, “Going stupid hard ’til its Ferrari on the car key” sum up how real his drive is on Kiss The Ring.
7. Beyond Rome’s technical skills, what he’s actually saying is fucking ill. I had a conversation with a friend lately about how there are actually a shitload of really great rappers out there. Like, from a purely technical perspective, everyone’s great. It’s apparent that rappers across the world have been working on their craft and know how to spit. That said, not everyone has something to say. Lots of rappers are boring, or corny, or unoriginal, or all of the above. This is where a guy like Rome Streetz separates himself from the best of the best. The confidence, the imagery, the complex wordplay, the intelligence, the fast life he’s lived and living, the understanding and interpretation of his hip-hop lineage—Rome Streetz, like many of his Griselda counterparts, is a second coming of the golden era greats he was raised on.
Bars like the way he sets off his duet “Soulja Boy” with Conway really provide a stellar snapshot of how he brings skill to the table, but also a clever, street-wise swag and perspective that puts him on par with rap’s current Mt. Rushmore: “Being fucked up for years locked in the box is not the goal/I figured out the flip, I turned a pot of piss to pot of gold/Life’s a gamble like a dice roll at the Bellagio/I got the glow, big bottom hoes wanna top me slow.” To be honest, I randomly pulled this out, but the whole album is filled with crazy quotables, this is just one little sliver. Technical skill aside, Rome is saying some shit on this album—top to bottom. Check out the Alchemist-produced gem “Long Story Short” for some “Motherless Child”-style storytelling shit, too.
8. The hooks are dope. Look, a lot of incredible MCs past and present have gotten by without throwing hooks on their shit. Pardon the second Wu-Tang mention, but RZA and Method Man made a song back in the day with Shaq where they proclaimed, “We don’t need no hooks.” And in many ways, the Wu was famous for just murdering posse cuts with no hooks and making them classics. Even solo—check out RZA “Sunshower” as a case in point, that shit is just a six minute long verse and it’s all flames. And the titans of today, from Roc Marciano and Action Bronson to Your Old Droog and Mach-Hommy, often leave traditional hooks out of the equation with no love lost.
But not Rome Streetz. Kiss The Ring is hook-heavy, and it really elevates the songwriting and makes his tracks feel like much more of a complete, memorable thought. They’re nice and tight, and almost extensions of his verses, without falling for the trend of just saying a word repetitively or feeling the need to try and sing. And for this, I applaud him. Peep the hook on “Big Steppa” as an example—”Chrome Hearts on my sweater, my work better, you could never fuck with me ever I been a Big Steppa/Make a play, put the shit together, before music made a way I had that work on my dresser.” The notion of being a “Big Steppa” is emphasized just enough in his delivery as a bar-ending thought to make it have that chorus-feel, but really it’s just a dope couple of lines that when repeated have the ability to anchor the song and give it a thematic shape. And he uses this formula flawlessly throughout the album, just peep joints like “In Too Deep” and the Daringer banger “Tyson Beckford” for further proof.
9. Kiss The Ring has heavy replay value. As you all know, the music cycle moves much faster than it used to nowadays. An album drops on a Friday, and even if it’s great, it can be old news by the top of the week. We give things a spin, maybe dump a couple favorites onto a playlist, and move on. Sorry, but that’s just how it goes. Unless! It’s one of those albums. And Kiss The Ring is one of those albums, for me at least, and I’d argue that it should be for anyone who calls themselves a true New York hip-hop fan.
Here’s how I know: every time I reach to listen to Kiss The Ring, I start at Track 1 and let it ride. That’s my tell tale sign of an impending classic. Just think about it, when you go back and listen to The Low End Theory or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… or Reasonable Doubt, how do you listen to it? You start at the first song and let it ride. Instinctually, that’s how I listen to Kiss The Ring. Now is it on the level of the three classics I just mentioned? Maybe for some, and maybe that’s an extreme thought for others. For me, without making a bold statement, it’s just one of those albums I wanna let ride top to bottom. Even though I will admit there are a few skippers for me toward the back half of the LP, I’m still letting that shit play from the top and all the way through almost two weeks after its release date, and will be for the foreseeable future.
It’s the sheer amount of dope tracks, it’s the sequencing, it’s the way the skits connect each joint to the next. Actually, the skits are excellent and probably deserve their own bullet on this short list, but fuck it I’m just free-flowing here on some blog shit. Regardless, it all contributes to the high replay value.
10. It’s the type of album I want to talk about. I’ve been tweeting and posting on IG about this album. I’ve been talking about it in my group chat with my childhood friends. I recommended it to my co-workers on our Slack music thread. I specifically texted a couple out-of-state friends about it to make sure it was on their radar. I even told my wife it’s my favorite new album, and played it for my son on the way to drop him off at middle school—his favorite track was “Destiny Child.” Shit, I’m writing this whole long-ass blog post about it! In fact, I’m hoping this article sparks more conversation around Kiss The Ring because it’s that dope and I feel like this post is just scratching the surface.
Hit me up if you feel the same way, or if this inspires you to listen for the first time, or even if you don’t like it and want to tell me why I’m wrong about it. Kiss The Ring is a conversation piece, and I’m down to have all the convos.
Big respect to Rome Streetz and everyone involved in the making of Kiss The Ring. I’m out – peace!