Rome Streetz Continues Showcasing Rap Greatness on KISS THE RING

Graphic by Mo Krueger

By Parker Bennett

To anyone who’s been even a casual fan of underground hip-hop in the past five years, the name Griselda is one that’s been pretty hard to avoid. Founded by the enigmatic mastermind Westside Gunn—alongside family members and fellow rappers Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine—the Buffalo record label has not only helped usher in a renaissance of grimy, drug-talking art-rap, but has also grown to foster just about every current underground hip-hop artist under the sun. 

Enter Rome Streetz: a New York rapper who, despite putting out a barrage of incredibly solid solo work and collaborations over the past few years, is probably best known for his features on recent Griselda projects, specifically Westside Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes 8 (2021). In 2021, Rome officially signed to Griselda, and on Sept. 30, fans were finally rewarded with his debut album under the Griselda moniker.

Consisting of 17 tracks, KISS THE RING isn’t much of a departure from the street-centric storytelling that makes up Rome Streetz’s bread and butter. The project is executive produced by Westside Gunn (a practice he’s executed in the past, for albums like Boldy James’ Versace Tape and Mach-Hommy’s Pray For Haiti), and features production from Griselda heavy-hitters like Daringer, The Alchemist, and the increasingly iconic Conductor Williams. 

While this is Rome Streetz’s debut album on the Griselda label, this is far from being the 35 year-old MC’s first rodeo, with him dropping three full length collaborative albums in the past year alone (if you haven’t heard his project with DJ Muggs, Death and the Magician, go listen to that before you read the next sentence). So, in many ways, KISS THE RING sounds less like an up-and-comer’s blazing debut, and more like a pu-pu-platter of the gutter-grit smooth talking that has defined the rapper thus far.

To anyone unfamiliar with Rome Streetz’s usual sound, opener “Big Steppa” offers a more than adequate snapshot of what his work is usually like. The beat is a loose collection of unsettling strings and piano stabs, tied together by an unstoppable drum-break, setting the stage for nothing less than a lyrical onslaught. On this front, Rome certainly doesn’t disappoint. His presence on the song is something like a battering ram, gushing forth rhymes at such a high level of quality and speed that it can almost be too much to handle. Within seconds, he switches from tales of drug-deals and jail time to detailed descriptions of high fashion and lavish living, and all of this falls neatly into place with deft rhyme-schemes and stank-face-inducing punchlines. 

The aura here is somewhat intangible; it reeks of the raw grittiness that can only come from experiencing these realities firsthand, while still coming together in such a neat package that it’s nothing less than a joy to listen to. It’s simultaneously the soundtrack to the greatest gangster movie never made and a terrifying horror movie about the real-world pitfalls of crime, poverty, and corruption. Whatever it is, Rome Streetz seems intent to leave it up to the listener, because he’s got 50 minutes of hip-hop excellence left to dish out.

The album continues with stand-outs like “Soulja Boy,” a piano-driven soundscape that features the incomparable Conway the Machine, delivering yet another sampling of lyrical gymnastics to add to his already immaculate track record. As with most Griselda projects, the album is littered with bizarre samples and unidentifiable vocals, such as “Game Over” music from Sonic the Hedgehog and dialogue from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video (the latter has become something of an unofficial producer tag for Conductor Williams). 

Regardless of the meaning behind their inclusion, these interludes add to the album’s overall sense of vintage grime, and contribute to the whole in a manner that only a genius like Westside Gunn could facilitate. Further stand-outs include the certifiably filthy “Blow 4 Blow” with both Stove God Cooks and Benny the Butcher, as well as the somber “Armed and Dangerous” featuring Griselda signee Armani Caesar. The latter showcases some of Rome Streetz’s less lauded capabilities, with his and Armani’s lyrics painting a surprisingly touching portrait of romance, heartbreak, and hustling in the pursuit of better living.

Things begin coming to a close on “Reversible,” my personal favorite song, another Conductor Williams-produced gem that features a beat switch so nasty you’d be forgiven for needing an emergency stank-face-removal surgery after experiencing it. Rome delivers possibly the best vocal performance of the album on this track, with lines like “I caress the baddest girls, yeah I Palm Angels” flying by so fast they’re almost hard to catch.

When all is said and done, KISS THE RING is not only another excellent project to notch under Rome Streetz’s belt, it’s a continuation of the victories that Griselda represents for underground hip-hop, independent music, and artistic liberation. The most beautiful thing about all of that? It’s us rap fans that get to reap the benefits again and again, and KISS THE RING is a gem you’re gonna want to queue up the second it finishes.