There are two things in music culture (besides music) that separate one artist from another: image and style. In the era of the internet, these attributes have been emphasized more than ever.
Today, almost anyone has the means to produce and share their music from anywhere in the world.
Today, hip-hop permeates the public sphere of music. Artists such as Drake and Kanye West enjoy large-scale attention and fame. And with the help of the internet, artists who would never have been given a chance 10 years ago are making considerable marks on the industry.
This is especially true in the case of Houston based rapper Riff Raff. Beginning his life in suburban Texas as a boy who was described as well-mannered, properly dressed, and a quiet kid, his image as an artist is anything but. Dressed in expensive jewelry, ridiculous tattoos (including the likes of the MTV logo, the Worldstarhiphop logo, and formerly, the BET logo), Riff Raff is like the Vanilla Ice and Lil B abomination of modern times, but way more extra. While this style may not appeal to you, it has rocketed Riff Raff to stardom.
With his over the top personality being such a big part of his persona, it leaves you wondering whether he’s serious at all.
Does Riff Raff really think that he’s this baller who gets all the chicks as he rocks gold grills in his teeth, or is the entire character known as Riff Raff completely made up?
He leaves people thinking either way, and in creating this persona for himself, he attracts more attention from both camps. I, for example, went into this topic thinking that this dude wasn’t serious at all. I thought maybe this was some elaborate parody on modern rap.
After doing more research, watching interviews and going deep, I’m really not so sure anymore. If that was the case, then Riff Raff would have had to dedicate a majority of his life to fulfilling the wild character he’d created. From learning that he was a former host on MTV, to learning that he sold his mixtapes at malls and colleges on the side, I have come to realize that Riff Raff might actually be for real.
When it comes to irony and absurd image, Riff Raff shares a similarity with an unlikely artist: Yung Lean.
Yung Lean is a Swedish artist that broke into the rap scene in 2013 with his mixtape Unknown Death 2002. Since then, he and his ensemble of sadboys (including producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman) have made a name for themselves with their music. Really, they’re primarily known for their unique aesthetic, which revolving seemingly unrelated things like Arizona iced tea, 1990’s memorabilia and Japanese prose mashed up with glitched computer art.
In spite of critics and those who have delved into his catalogue describing his music as lazy or unenthusiastic in approach, he remains an artist with a large internet cult following. This is due largely in part to the release of several YouTube videos, all of which were quick to go viral. Each video guaranteed visuals ridiculous in nature, most notable of these being the music video for “Hurt,” released in June of 2013. This particular upload features a Yung Lean dancing over odd 1990’s 3D visuals while showcasing the sad boys aesthetic in the process. The ridiculousness of the video worked though, as it sits with over 11 million views as of February 2017.
His image no doubt contributed to his success, and he has a lot of people talking as a result. Some think he is a brilliant mastermind who arguably invented a new genre of music, and some believe him and his music are a complete joke, not to be taken seriously by anyone. Music reviewer Anthony Fantano, aka theneedledrop, munched on bread for almost the entire duration of his review of the Unknown Death 2002 mixtape because he felt he needed to “meet a meme with a meme.”
Again, though, it’s up to the audience to decide whether or not to take him seriously, and this goes for most of internet rap today. From Rae Sremmurd to Lil Yachty, the internet age has allowed some insane and absurd figures into the industry. This is mostly thanks to the likes of Lil B and Soulja Boy, who both started the trend of making some of the most ridiculous rap, and making it go viral through YouTube. They made a demand for it, and a lot of the rappers from this new generation quote them as major influences.
What all of these guys in common though is that they display an exaggerated persona or image that they project as real. People either try to take the character at face value, or try to find deeper meaning in it. Ironically though, often times the deeper meaning isn’t intended to be there. Or maybe it is, I couldn’t tell you that for some of these artists. One thing I can say is that these guys are just making music for fun, and nothing is going to really stop them.
Pierre McAlister wrote this article. He’s a KCPR DJ and Cal Poly journalism freshman. Seena Salehian created the art. He’s a KCPR DJ and Cal Poly graphic communications junior.