When last we checked in on F.Stokes, he was poeticizing the South Side of Chicago. Nine months later, the Midwestern emcee is back with “A Princess Named Leroy” — a new-wave-inspired concept album about a stargazing young talent fixated on Paris in the 1980s.
Stokes provides more background on the concept here, but it’s pretty apparent what he’s going for from the aesthetic alone. The character of Leroy isn’t too much of a departure from the artist who conceived him (Stokes grew up in Chicago and tours extensively in France and Europe), but the aesthetic of the album is all about the decade. By taking a step back from his normal palate of introspective cityscaping, Stokes allows himself to get completely absorbed in the sound of the record.
The production on the album is distinctly Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Dusty synths and early Nintendo bug all over the tracklist (especially on “MINES,” which features Super Social Jeeze), and clanky cowbells give tracks like “THE SLUMS” some proto-hip-hop levity. Stokes refines his delivery to match this backsplash, leaning heavy on end rhymes and unreeling a slow, meticulous flow.
The EP practically bleeds neon. Between the bapping basslines and the seapunk keys, “A Princess Named Leroy,” Stokes gets lost in his 1986 narratives of parking lot love (“GHETTO LOVE”) and hustling (“GAMES”). This isn’t to say that Stokes’ experiment in character narrative is any less erudite than his previous work — it’s simply just a more playful medium for the lyrical rapper to filter his socially minded verses through.
As Leroy, Stokes is speaking in anecdotes rather than platitudes. Yes, he’s posing like Lionel Richie on the EP’s cover and the pronounced record scratching is bound to send you reeling back to Depeche Mode’s glory days, but Stokes is actually moving closer to a reality than he’s ever done before. By approaching the concept of “A Princess Named Leroy” with a little bit of detachment, he’s revealed another rung of his own artistry — not only can F.Stokes tell it like it is, he can tell it like it might be.
“A Princess Named Leroy” is available for free via F.Stokes’ Bandcamp, though you can choose to pay for it. Stokes is also offering a cassette versions of the EP and a mock tour T-shirt, both of which are limited editions.