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Rome Fortune
Beautiful Pimp II Adam Bychawski , March 6th, 2014 10:32

There are many pimps in hip hop, but Rome Fortune is the only beautiful one. Rome's second mixtape, Beautiful Pimp II, suggests he's formed some attachment to the pimp of its title. "If you know what people like about you and capitalise off of that, you're a beautiful pimp", Rome explained in an interview last year, adding "a pimp in my mind is one who knows how to use but also knows how to be used". The eponymous Beautiful Pimp, then, is less a persona and more a metaphor for the relationship of the artist to their audience which, according to Rome, is part self-promotion and part self-exploitation. What's unusual here is the implication that giving people what they want is a virtue rather than a compromise.

As an artistic statement, it's uncharacteristic of Rome given the strict individualism which he subscribes to. On Beautiful Pimp II, he's doggedly cautious of any sort relationship that isn't based on hostility, completely isolating himself in the process. "These niggas gon hate me that's something I know / I'm all on my own... shit," Rome raps on intro 'Money Memories'. But it would be a mistake to see this self-estrangement as misanthropic or even the ‘lonely at the top' shtick that tortured souls The Weeknd and Drake try to pull. No, Rome's another one of Atlanta's ATliens, a stranger in his own city, following in the footsteps of his idol Andre 3000 with his self-styled bright red suede cowboy boots – which somewhat believably he claims to sleep in.

But if Rome's supposed to be the pimp to us johns, he's not doing much of a job of it. It may seem counter-intuitive to his single-minded drive for success, but Rome seems to delight in alienating and eliciting disgust. His open homophobia and casual misogyny frequently make for uncomfortable listening. 'Never Stray', the penultimate track of Beautiful Pimp, is a case in point: its opening line, "Money is the motive, I will never stray", epitomises Rome's whole philosophy. At first it appears as if Rome has misjudged the tone of CitoOnTheBeat's production completely, the sample which runs through the track is an almost laughably incongruous high-pitched voice that pleads "Haven't seen that smile in such a long time, don't do this to me... again". But then, a verse in, Rome delivers an unexpectedly devastating and brutal confession: "I mean you sucking and you fucking, but what is it for? / I just wanna have your soul, I think you should know". When the sample repeats it feels like all the blood has been drained from the track.

On Beautiful Pimp II, Rome has chosen to work exclusively with CitoOnTheBeat. Looking over the production credits of Beautiful Pimp, the decision seems an unusual one: the mixtape is split between Childish Major and C4, two young Atlanta producers who did much to define Rome's sound, Cito's only credit is 'Never Stray'. If anything it demonstrates Rome's openness to experimentation, Beautiful Pimp II goes against every trend for follow-up mixtapes: no guest spots, fewer big name producers, fewer tracks, no singles (the runtime is under thirty minutes). Instrumentation is equally minimal, 'I Was On One, I Can't Lie' is composed of nothing more than a few strains of vibraphone (played by Rome's own grandfather). Solo production represents a significant risk, but it works as a whole because Cito's cloud rap aesthetic – all neon synth washes and sparse production – is never allowed to overstay its welcome.

The appropriately named 'Sunset In Benzes' describes the mood of the album perfectly: drowsy, glossy and perhaps too tasteful. On his first mixtape, Rome did much to balance the more airy tracks with the gritty details of plying his trade. But here Rome is more passive and without the icy synths and stuttering trap snares of his debut. Beautiful Pimp II is narcotising where its predecessor was paranoiac and unsettling. Rome's flow – his elongated intonation of every syllable, under his breath repetition of certain phrases – has a hypnotic quality too that only exaggerates the effect. Ultimately though, as a producer and performer duo Cito and Rome are perfectly paired, and Beautiful Pimp II is an incredibly unified mixtape.

If beauty is indeed in the eye of beholder, then Rome's "pimp" is a beauty by altogether different definition. It was difficult to find much empathy let alone beauty in last year's Beautiful Pimp. But then perhaps that's the point. On his debut, Rome negotiated between the role of the used and user (more often than not the latter). Beautiful Pimp II, by comparison, envisions some way out of this double bind. Tracks like 'OneDay' and 'Patience' are heavy with longing, speaking of successes that are yet to come. For a man very sure he's giving people what they want, Rome seems less sure of how to get what he wants.