Roddy Ricch: How He Became Number 1
With his debut album "Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial" and a single that wasn't supposed to be one, "The Box", Ronoddy Ricch became in a few weeks the new sensation of rap across the Atlantic. A success that owes nothing to chance.
It's the kind of nose-to-nose that rap fans love. On January 10, pop star Justin Bieber and his team were criticized for a social media promotion campaign around Yummy, the Canadian's return single after three years without music.
In stories and posts, they asked fans to create playlists composed solely of the single and to buy the song several times on iTunes, to artificially inflate the number of listens to the title, thus ensuring the song the number one spot on the Billboard chart.
Despite this dubious strategy, they failed in the face of an unexpected competitor: the rapper Roddy Ricch and his hit The Box, a song whose chorus mentions the consumption of codeine, a and twice the N-word. Rap punches.
Except that in the performance, The Box is much more than that, a sum of small details that hit the mark for this song that was, initially, not supposed to be a single. Its melodious but built on weird sounds, perfect for choreography on TikTok, the new platform that makes songs viral.
The balance of Roddy Ricch's text, from subtle punchlines ("Lotta niggas out here playin' ain't ballin', I done put my whole arm in the rim #VinceCarter") to grotesque but immediately memorable phases ("Bitch don't wear no shoes in my house!").
And above all his possessed interpretation, between removed singing and unpredictable flow. Roddy Ricch is a young rapper-singer with a low-key rise but has been continuous for more than two years, with a protean rap style and inherited from several currents in recent years.
The box's success follows that of the album from which it is extracted, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, first on the Billboard chart during the week of its release in mid-December 2019. Above all, it crowns a journey that is the result of Roddy Ricch's work but also of happy circumstances.
From Compton to Atlanta
Roddy Ricch is a child from Compton, a city south of the great urban area of Los Angeles, famous for his rap heritage, from N.W.A. to Kendrick Lamar and YG. Born in 1998, Rodrick Wayne Moore Jr. is obviously a child of rap, a genre he has listened to since he was younger.
Yet he says he never saw music as a real serious activity. "I used to do it fast for fun, but I never thought rap was generating more money than that, honestly," he told The Fader in 2018. I understood that money was part of the scenery. I never ran into rappers, and I don't believe in things I don't see."
Prison didn't particularly scare me, I just told myself I had nothing to do there.
The only rapper he met in his early teens, in a church frequented by members of their respective families, was Kendrick Lamar. Not the most flamboyant rapper. What Roddy sees growing up, especially, are members of his family regularly buy luxury cars, and especially his grandmother, Louisianan by birth, invest in the real estate of the neighborhood.
This entrepreneurial spirit, legal or illegal, appears in Roddy's texts - without going into too much detail. A daily life sulphurous enough to put him in danger: at 17, he is checked with an unlicensed weapon, and spends a week in prison.
"It didn't particularly scare me, it just, I told myself I had nothing to do there". This place can fuck you up," he told Passion of the Weiss in 2018. Jailing and reputation on the street are, in fact, not part of Roddy's musical matrix. He is part of another category of rapper: those who blaze to better forget the trials of the past.
In the meantime, Roddy starts to play music. It was in his mid-teens, around 2014, that he seriously stuck to it, aware of the risks associated with his environment. For The Fader: "There were too many deaths in my neighborhood. Friends going to jail. And then I grew up, I matured.
So I wanted to do something to get out of it." So he buys his own equipment and starts registering. Shortly after his time in prison, his mother kicked him out of the family home. He moved in with relatives across the country, in Atlanta, where he fed on local music.
Roddy is used to traveling: he claims to have family all over the United States - notably in Chicago, where he got a slap around in 2012 when he first heard Chief Keef. But even more than in Compton or elsewhere, it is in Atlanta the state that the young man is impressed by African-American entrepreneurship. Not even out of adolescence, Roddy forges a certainty: he must quickly earn a living, rap being perhaps a good way to achieve it.
Progress and emotion
What is remarkable about Roddy Ricch is the assurance he takes in just three years. In Fucc It Up, his first big hit of 2017, he develops the usual motives of the young coal miner drowning his sorrows in codeine, suspicious and paranoid, locked out and condemned to survive.
The track is from Feed tha Streets, his first mixtape released in 2017. On type-beats imitating the style of Zaytoven and DJ Mustard, Roddy unrolls a song-rap hybrid close to a whole generation of Southern rap of the same generation, from YoungBoy Never Broke Again to Kodak Black through Lil Baby and Gunna.
A sense of melody that he studied, like some of them, in the masters of this style last decade, Future and Young Thug, but also in a shooting star, Speaker Knockerz. The South Carolina rapper, who died of cardiac arrest in 2014 at just 19 years old, had enjoyed huge success on the Internet the year before with his hit Song (140 million views in early 2020 on YouTube).
"I had to make a few wads to get me out, my mother kicked me out of the house, I had no choice," he sang, from a poorly tuned Auto-Tune, on a dramatic production provided by him. The urgency, the resourcefulness, the spleen: everything found in Roddy's music from his first mixtape, then his EP Be 4 The Fame, in early 2018, allowing him to attract the attention of seasoned artists, including Meek Mill.
It is from Feed tha Streets II, released in November 2018, that the young crooner shows, in just one year, a remarkable progression. A job that has not escaped a local veteran: Nipsey Hussle. A few months earlier, in the middle of the promo for his album Victory Lap, the rapper from Crenshaw was full of praise for his youngest at The Fader.
"He has incredible control of his voice. He's got real skills. At the age he was, so early in his construction, having this degree of mastery, it's impressive. It's a question of how far he's going to go." Confirmation with this second mixtape where, on his twelve tracks, Roddy sounds much sharper in his singing, going from high tones (Cream) to lower tones (Can't Express) without giving the impression of transvestishment, even if one still perceives his influences invariably.
This second volume of Feed tha Streets also allows him to find trusted producers with whom to hone his musical style, notably Sonic, KiloKeyz Beatz and Yung Lan, all accustomed to working with melodists (Lil Durk, YNW Melly, Kevin Gates...). But it is above all in his writing that he is refined.
Released as a single from this mixtape, Die Young is a remarkable song, irresistibly catchy and yet of deep sadness. "I am obliged to remain armed, I do not want to die young: I would rather be judged by twelve than carried by six. How am I going to pay my bail? Look at my wrist... But tell me why the legends go so fast?".
His toiled singing, covered with a slight Veil of Auto-Tune and placed on a delicate prod from London On da Track, envelops the distress of his words conceived on June 18, 2018, while the announcement of the death of xxxtentacion has awakened in him a painful memory: the death of one of his best friends in a pursuit with the police.
"I'm not the type to talk about myself too much, so when I'm in the booth, I don't really write, I'm just what I feel or think," he told the Genius website a few months later. This ability to capture a vivid emotion at the moment, and especially to crystallize it in a captivating melody and lyrics, will make its recipe.
Inherited formula... and improved?
A recipe he applies to two singles that will propel him to new spheres. First Racks In The Middle, Nipsey Hussle's first post-Victory Lap track. Crenshaw's rapper picks up the story where he left it after his victory round, winning around the neck.
A scent of success captured in Roddy Ricch's chorus, for a last moment of Nipsey's grace in his lifetime: he was murdered six weeks later, probably still rekindling painful memories for his young protégé. Still, there's no way he's going to moan.
The other single that will take off Roddy Ricch is a nice demonstration. For his first official collaboration with DJ Mustard on his album Perfect Ten, Roddy Ricch offered himself a sunny title, carried by the catchy style copied but rarely also of the star producer.
Between a nod to Nipsey and his partner ("I run the racks up with my queen like London and Nip") and boasting his chin up, Roddy Ricch is bravado on Ballin', a single decorated with a double platinum disc in the US.
Without taking away Roddy's merits and work, his success also comes in a favourable context. Throughout this decade, some of his models have ploughed the musical field of their experiments without necessarily reaping the rewards - despite his considerable influence, it took Young Thug until 2019 to have his first album number with So Much Fun.
It was also at the local level that Roddy Ricch benefited from the background work of another artist: 03 Greedo. Like him, the Watts rapper transplanted the rap sung under Auto-Tune into the Californian rap landscape. A few shades. First, 03 Greedo has undeniably created a hybrid music, mixing the Atlanta vocalizations with the ratchet of L.A. - a sound that Roddy hasn't fully embraced, preferring freer and less aggressive arrangements.
Finally, 03 Greedo did not fully turn his back on the street, and was hit by the courts and was sentenced to twenty years in the closet - potentially five if he stands upright during his sentence. Arriving with a formula that is a bit more accessible, without being sanitized, Roddy Ricch's success is an indirect culmination of these various factors.
And it is also in this that its success is appreciable: it manages to reach a wide audience without formatting its music, and even by developing even more its specificities.
For his debut album, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, Roddy Ricch takes his ambitions to the next level. The guest list is revealing, with Lil Durk, Meek Mill and Ty Dolla $ign. On Start With Me, he brings together the inevitable featuring rapper of 2019, Gunna, and the new hit maker, JetsonMade (producer of DaBaby) and his pachydermic 808's.
The production of his album is even more licked and melodious than on his mixtapes, between melancholic pianos, western guitars, and even a gospel choir on War Baby perfectly accompanying the rapper in his song filled with street blues. But these musical pageants do not yet quite mask its shortcomings.
The young rapper sometimes gives the impression of going round in circles in the themes of his album, with an album heart more dedicated to his relationships to the female gente without much imagination.
Roddy still lacks the depth of his mentors, Nipsey Hussle in the vertigo of economic and social ascension, and Meek Mill on the ability to overcome hardships. Besides, it's impossible not to think of the intro to Meek Mill's Dreams and Nightmares for the two-part Intro from Roddy's album.
It is at the very end of the album that he finally shows real nuances: Prayers To The Trap God imagines a police search and its consequences on his life, when War Baby evokes the after-effects left to him by his youth on the streets of Compton. "The decade before, I was an innocent child," he told The Fader shortly after the release of his album.
"But in the last decade, I've lost someone every year. I just want to... to grow up, lay my foundations, to face the trials that will come." Now that he has methodically built solids with this first album, he only wants to build a sustainable career.
Yet it is outside of rap that he imagines his future. "I want to invest in real estate, start small businesses. And help my cousin go to college." "Hustle and motivate," as Nipsey Hussle used to say. Roddy Ricch intends to carry this flame.