Illustration by George Blott
Houston, Texas rapper RiFF RAFF (aka Jody Highroller) could not have existed before the information age, plain and simple.
Whereas haters of any generation can find a reason to knock on him if they like, digital evolution has ultimately given hip hop imagery the pass to change outta North Face jackets into Russian fur hats and bombers, and from Jesus pieces to jewel-encrusted Kool-Aid-man chains and emerald Slimer belt-buckles.
And when was commercial rap ever so lyrical, even if Top 40 club DJs still permeate the wackest of it all?
RiFF RAFF is of his time, and as far as he’s concerned, the stopwatch ain’t even ticking yet, despite somewhere close to 25 million accumulated YouTube hits and enough hate to put his original channel outta business.
Performing in Laval tonight, the over-the-top, corn-rowed, gold-grilled freestyle impresario is actually closer to Earth than I would have guessed. Here’s a convo we had early this week.
Darcy MacDonald: So is this your first tour?
RiFF RAFF: Right now is like the beginning of my shows, my touring. I’ve always done random shows but now practically every day I’m getting booked for another show. We’ll set up worldwide tours when the Diplo album drops. Everything is really heatin’ up, you know?
DM: For sure. I’m a hip hop reporter, like I cover rap music intensively, so I don’t wanna sound like a jerk but I just found out about you the other day. My dearest friend randomly, at the end of a phone conversation last week, joked with me to “get an interview with RiFF RAFF” for him. That was the co-sign, so here we are.
That was the sell.
RR: (laughing) Well, tell him that was a good move on his behalf.
DM: Your shit’s got substance. It made me laugh at first, and it makes me laugh as I get more into it, in a good way. I had heard you were a “joke rapper” but I dunno about that. What do you make of that label?
RR: I mean, the way I see shit…I’m only me, so I can’t look at the outside perspective of what somebody sees me as. All I can do is constantly do stuff where I appear to be what I see as myself, as bigger and better than anything that came out. Now when I say that I don’t mean to draw it in an inappropriate way where I say I’m better than anyone or whatever the case is. What I’m saying is I try to make my own music, so whatever anyone perceives it as or takes it as, it’s not a joke. I don’t make music an’ play off of someone else’s songs. All my songs can’t be copied and they aren’t a copy of someone else’s stuff.
I just consistently drop song after song or whatever I feel like dropping. I don’t do anything that anyone, like, wants me to do. Someone telling me to make a song, or do this-that-and-this and such, it’s not gonna work ‘cuz I won’t force anything. It’s organic, it’s all natural. I’ve just now started writing within the last couple of years, so every day I’m learning new ways to write, styles, patterns, whatever. So when I do that, I listen to all types of music, and I just soak up all the good things that I see or take. I use songs almost like my diary, to say what I have to say. Whether somebody understands it or not, it’s not my problem.
DM: I’ve noticed two things: you have a ton of video content out there, and you seem to be a freestyle junkie, is that right?
RR: That’s how it all started, I just did freestyle shit for fun, ‘cuz if you don’t have fun with what you’re doing, it turns into work or a job and I don’t wanna work or have a job, you know what I mean? That’s why I don’t go to school and whatnot, I quit all that. If something stops being fun it’s not worth it. I think a lotta people are starting to perceive that in me, that I just do it for fun.
Seven, eight songs in a day – I mean, I can bang out albums in a day.
DM: My friend told me to listen to the [DJs Sway & King Tech’s daily syndicated] Wake Up Show freestyle to really hear you go, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube.
RR: It was [Sway’s Emimem-backed Shade 45 Sirius Radio show] Sway in the Morning, search that.
DM: I really like the “Otis Freestyle” video, though. The line with the “boysenberry Benz” killed me man, that might be my favourite rap bar of the year and I just heard it 10 minutes ago.
RR: “I pull up in the boysenberry Benz…you like…” (laughing) Fuck, I forgot what I said… “You like Boyz II Men”, or something. I dunno. [Author’s note: The line is “you like boys/I pull up in a boysenberry Benz/Hot way back when/You was hot way back when/Boyz II Men went into menopause/you see the men, and then you pause”]
DM: Who are you working with now, production-wise, and who are some of these random rappers I see pop up in these videos? Friends of yours I guess?
RR: Like I said, all this stuff is really just poppin’ off right now, Diplo and all this. I mean, I haven’t even dropped an album. I’m droppin’ albums, but I haven’t dropped an official one. I haven’t had a video on MTV or BET. I just dropped like, what, 55 videos this year on my YouTube channel [JodyHIGHROLLER] and I’m up to like, 13, 14 million. The song I did with Chief Keef is almost at three million plays. All this stuff happened after February, March. You know, with Action Bronson, I had a song with him that was almost at a million views, and it got took down.
I had another channel that got banned from YouTube. It had like, 11 million views, I got that in close to a year. But then this year, I had to start a whole new YouTube channel in like late January, and immediately it started getting millions of plays, and now it’s at 13 million. So it’s like, all this shit is increasingly picking up. I’m a new artist. When my album drops, then I’m officially…you know when the NBA has draft day? In June or whatever? That’s the draft day, so when I drop my album, that’s gonna be my draft day. I’m in college right now, that’s the way I see it, then I’m ‘bout to hit the pros. Then you drop the big album, tour, you get the video on MTV, a song on the radio – that’s your rookie year. So I’m not a rookie yet, I’m like a red-shirt freshman! So people will see my whole potential, when I have a TV show and I’m in movies, that’s when people will kinda understand where I’m going.
DM: What happened with YouTube? I sorta read about it but I don’t trust Wikipedia rapper pages very much, as a rule. What went down with that?
RR: [My channel] got took down because I had a few videos up there that had girls half naked, or I had one where I was doin’ some drugs and stuff. The thing with my channel and with me, as opposed to somebody else – ‘cause some other rapper might get away with that, they smokin’ or got girls half naked, and they might have 10, 15 million plays and nobody flags it! The thing with me is, I have a lotta people who don’t wanna see me in the position where I’m gonna be at. So when they see that sorta thing happenin’ too fast, there’s a flag button right there, you know what I mean? So all these dudes are sittin’ there in their room, by themselves, bein’ like “I really don’t wanna see this guy driving Lamborghinis and jumpin’ outta helicopters and eatin’ lobster soufflés in the Jacuzzi! I don’t like the way this dude is comin’ up so fast, lemme try to stop it!” Now they can’t actually stop me but what they can do is hit that flag button. Even just talkin’ right now and saying this in this interview, this is almost like sayin’…nahmean? (laughs) Some haters might be reading and then they gonna flag my videos!
Basically, the haters just try to…I mean who doesn’t like seeing girls in bikinis or with their clothes off? So maybe a girl, her nipple slip out into the camera, and then people flag that, and they take it down! I mean, how petty is that? Or I’m smokin’ a blunt or hittin’ a line of some miscellaneous drug, and “oh, oh, flag, flag, flag!” I mean come on, man, that’s people just, just, nitpicking and…just, yeah, hatred.
DM: How are you staying on it this time around? ‘Cause all that stuff is back up.
RR: It’s all back up. A mouse can’t stop a bulldozer, man.
DM: That’s whassup.
RR: I have 25 vidoes I haven’t even dropped yet. I consistently drop at least a video or two a week, so that’s nothin’. If people make their career trying to stop me, you’re gonna have a short career.
DM: What did you do before music?
I used to play basketball a lot. I like to just travel and collect money, so I just parlayed that into music. I mean…I’ve always been me, you know? I used to have a hard time taking my freestyle skills – talent, ability, whatever you wanna call it – and transferring that to pen and paper and actually writing songs. In the last year, I’ve kinda learned that. It’s like a little kid riding a bike, first you got the training wheels on it, and you’re like “K, this is fun! I like doing this!” And then your dad, a couple months later, takes the training wheels off, now you’re riding like that. Next thing you know, you’re moving to a freestyle bike, doin’ tricks and jumpin’ off ramps, and you’re still learning. So this is my first year riding a bike and I’m learning as I go. Gimme three, four more years, I’ma be at the XGames doin’ 360 backflips. ■
With Radio Radio at Salle André-Mathieu (475 de l’Avenir, Laval) tonight, Friday, Oct. 19, 8 p.m., $20