Catching up with Riff Raff: The road from Mad Decent signee to Neon Nation kingpin
Calgary, AB – Today marks the Calgary stop of Houston rapper Riff Raff’s four-month world tour. The Canadian leg, in particular, is a promo tour for his Aquaberry Aquarius album that was released in January.
For those who haven’t been keeping track, here is a brief summary on the recent years of Riff Raff, a man who LA Weekly once called “today’s most enigmatic rapper”:
In May of 2012, a year before the above statement was made, Riff Raff signed to Mad Decent, the imprint run by legendary dance music artist Diplo. This was the home of his debut studio album, 2014’s Neon Icon.
In April of last year, it was announced that Riff Raff had signed a $4-million deal to start his own label, Neon Nation Corporation, under BMG Rights Management. This was the home of his second studio album, Peach Panther, which was released last June.
Four months later he followed it up with Balloween, making Aquaberry Aquarius his third release on the label. Releasing three albums in a little over six months is a stark contrast to the two-year interval that separated his first two studio releases. Although this gap is the industry averages, Riff Raff clearly follows his own conventions.
“If I want to make an album I’ll just go make it and then we’ll drop it,” says Riff Raff. He’s on the phone from Syracuse about to head to the gym. “Sometimes I don’t wanna make an album for like six months, eight months, or a year.”
“I just happened to have time to make that album [Balloween], I dropped Balloween, and then we started to focus on this other one.”
“If I want to make an album I’ll just go make it and then we’ll drop it.”
– Riff Raff
He’s already starting to piece together material and ideas for his next five releases. “Now I’m working on three other albums right now,” he says. “I’m working on the Alcoholic Alligator album, Cool Blue Jewels and the White West.”
Sometime after that will be Maroon Moon and Cranberry Vampire. “Those will probably be closer to 2019, 2020, I’m going to wait on those.”
Riff Raff speaks with an air of nonchalance despite juggling all of these projects while touring. It’s a confidence that probably stems from self releasing 16 mixtapes before his first studio album, passing many of them out himself at local shopping malls.
All those years of street-level grinding have seemingly instilled a “seize the moment” mentality in him. This is confirmed when I ask him where his music is headed stylistically. “I don’t know, I just take it day by day really,” he says. “I don’t think that far ahead. I don’t have like a set way of doing things, it just seems like it.”
“I just go with the flow.”
On Aquaberry Aquarius, that flow took him to Wiz Khalifa’s studio in Pittsburg, a move that Riff Raff says sparked new ideas and sounds. “I usually just write my own [lyrics], on this I did write it all my own, but I did get help with the hooks on some of these songs,” he says.
“It was just more of a collaborative – being open to listening to other people’s ideas, which is good sometimes.” On “Hit Me Up,” for example, Christian pop artist Lisa Cimorelli only agreed to do the chorus if the song had no profanity in it. The result brings an entirely new flavour to Riff Raff’s repertoire.
Similarly, the song “Root Beer Float Ghost” showcases a new level of depth by bringing in emerging Pittsburg artist Tommy.
I conclude by asking Riff Raff if this act of bringing in a newer, more obscure artist is part of his plan to turn Neon Nation into an entertainment empire with a roster of international talent, a goal that he expressed at the time of the label’s creation. “Yeah we’re gonna get there, but I don’t want to just jump right into things,” he says.
“I have to focus on this tour before I can start working with other artists.”
And so the future is characteristic Riff Raff, an enigma following an unseen current into the ether.
Riff Raff: On Tour
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