Roper Williams have kept themselves busy the past few years to say the least. The Hudson County based rap production duo (yes duo) have made a name for themselves by providing their specific brand of soulful loops for some of the most in demand rappers in the underground. They’ve produced tracks like the Your Old Droog cut “Pravda” featuring EL P, Mach Hommy, and Black Thought, the Navy Blue track “Self Harm”, and Maxo’s new single “PlayDis!” featuring Zelooperz. They’ve also become go-to producers for Queens fashionhouse Aime Leon Dore, and have dropped half a dozen stellar beat-tapes in their own right, but the duo made a name for themselves with a run of stellar collaborative tapes with several ascendant stars of the NYC/NJ underground. Roper really gained momentum at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 when they dropped two collaborative tapes, Gandhi Loves Children with Rahway NJ’s Fatboi Sharif and The Lightwork EP with Brooklyn rapper AKAO SOLO and Chelsea rapper YL, who they’ve been working with since 2017. The two tapes were a showcase for how versatile Roper’s beats were. Whether you wanted to rap a hundred miles an hour like YL, rap in iambic pentameter like AKAI, or bring things to the netherworld like Fatboi, Roper had a bevy of lightly chopped soul samples for you to rap over. The duo’s Jersey City studio, which they recently relocated to Hoboken, became a legendary space where rappers getting work in would hang, smoke, play video games, and hop on one another’s tracks. The Jersey City iteration infamously did not have wifi, making anyone there that much more encouraged to hop in the booth and get to work.
Roper Williams’ recently released collaborative album Infinite Victory Loop was recorded in a lightning in a bottle twenty four hour period where YL, AKAI SOLO, Fatboi Sharif, and Hoboken’s own Pootie, who has been working with Roper Williams going back to their 2019 collaborative album P, just happened to be in the studio recording. The record has the loose energy of one of those infamous studio days where half a dozen rappers are desperate to get in the booth. The tape sounds like Roper just laid down their beats and challenged whoever was in the room to hop on the mic, which to my understanding is more or less exactly how it happened. You can imagine Fatboi Sharif finishing his verse on “From Lords” then heading to pick up some Chinese food, bringing it back just in time to record his verse on “Palace” two songs later. There are no choruses to be found here, just a group of friends rapping one after the other, trying to out-do whoever happened to go last.
YL wastes no time getting the party started with lead off track “Blow My Mind” sounding cool as the Fonz on Roper’s pristine loop. Roper Williams feel akin to great sushi chefs with how they put together their sample based production – the key is getting top notch ingredients and lightly touching them up to bring out their full flavor profile. YL and Fatboi kill it on both that track and the following “Sunday Morning Funeral”. However, AKAI steals the show at the end of “Sunday Morning Funeral” with one of my favorite verses of the year, dropping bar after bar like “Death on my mind like a captivating rap line” before closing with “Fuck whats yours it just became ours”. AKAI continues to be a completely singular talent in rap with one of the smartest pens in the game, I couldn’t even imagine someone trying to copy what he does on the mic.
“From Lords” is one of two tracks to feature all four rappers on the tape and is the record’s stand out song. The track is powered by an angelic choral sample and a thumping drum, sounding like lo-fi rap’s response to “Lord Knows”. Pootie in particular shines on “From Lords” sounding halfway between Action Bronson and Truguy the Dove as he announces all five contributors to the tape in his Jersey drawl. Pootie always keeps the energy high with some of the most fun verses on the tape, also dropping some of my favorite bars of the record on “Palace”. “Oprah Cries Too” is the sole beat not to be rapped on and is the song that feels most akin to the work Roper does on their beat tapes. The track’s vocal sample in particular feels like something you might have heard on The Day After Bandcamp Friday or Armored Mewtwo Has No Friends, his excellent beat-tape with Jersey City producer Driveby.
YL gets the record’s lone solo track where he lets you know he needs his pockets deep like “Ricky Lake” which made me want to rewatch Ricki’s star-making turn in John Water’s classic Hairspray. YL spends the whole tape effortlessly in the pocket, you get the sense he could spend another twenty minutes letting that sample loop back over and over if he really wanted to. YL has been among the most consistent rappers in the underground for at least half a decade now, I particularly loved his Soda Club series from last year, and he feels the most poised of the four rappers here for a major breakout.
Fatboi Sharif leads off on “Zeitgeist” which is the track that feels most from his morose sonic universe. Fatboi sounds like he might be conducting an exorcism on the mic, though AKAI sounds just as comfortable on Roper’s beleaguered piano loop. Hearing AKAI go “That’s five bro, stop playing with n****s” at the close of the track makes it really set in that damn, that is indeed his fifth verse on this tape, they really did do this record all in one long session. Fatboi shines on “Hooptie” with the album’s closing verse, sounding like if Old Dirty Bastard grew up on a steady diet of horror movies and Taylor ham. Fatboi brings listeners to a different depth of hell on every one of his solo records, sounding like nobody else in the underground as a result, and it’s great hearing him here remind the people he can rap his ass off with the best of them, even on more traditional production. The beat quickly putters out after Fatboi yells “Fuck outta here,” sounding like they finally ran out of tape or they woulda just thrown on another loop and kept rapping till the sun came up.
Infinite Victory Loop is as fun and free flowing an underground rap album as I’ve heard this year, every bit as joyous and celebratory as the album’s name might suggest. The tape is a testament to the unforgettable knock of Roper Williams loops and how the playfully competitive nature of their studio brings the best out of the rappers they work with. For as diverse a range of styles as the four rappers command, the four all work so well together because you can tell they’re all genuinely friends with and fans of one another. The record is a celebration of this specific time in all these people’s lives where they could hop on the PATH or in a car, go rip a couple blunts, grab some food, and get to shit talking over God-tier loops with a few of the best rappers in the Tri-State. It’s all in a day’s work at Roper Williams studios.