First: to accept and to admit. The rapper Riff Raff and I have been pulling swigs from a bottle of bourbon situated between us. After each consecutive swig there is a thud back to the wooden table with a concurrent and increasingly fainter slosh. We’re facing each other interrogation style and I’m tossing inquiries like jump shots. Riff is answering calmly. He’s mulling the questions over and meandering if he must, but parallel to each comes an answer that’s one-part cryptic, one-part philosophical, and one- part certainty.
We’ve been whisked away to a corner of the Los Angeles house and property you currently see in the photos before you. Now away from the ears and eyes of publicists and stylists, my feeling is that Riff Raff doesn’t want to be here talking to the journalist — me — that Riff Raff is a naturally trusting person, and he’s been burned many times; by advantageous writers, by untrue friends. He calls his and other artist’s relationship with journalists in modern times, “Ken vs. Ryu,” in reference to the video game Street Fighter.
Ahead of me, and behind Riff, hangs a mirror with fierce jaguars carved into it, a reared up horse sculpture is on my right, and a wooden warrior totem to my left. Rife with symbolism? Perhaps—but I’m not going to bite. This is, after all, the Repercussions issue. As it pertains to this piece, I’m interested in the repercussions of honesty, and of acceptance. But we’re not there yet.
I ask Riff if he lives in the moment. “I try to,” he says, “I don’t know what’s happening tomorrow and I don’t care what happened yesterday.” He grabs the bottle of bourbon and pours it on the table, “I spilled a drink over here today, what does that matter tomorrow?”
“What do you take from Texas?” I ask the Houston-born rapper.
“My whole style,” Riff says, “The thing I see about Texas that isn’t in other places, is its style. I see Texas the same way I see Hawaii, it’s an island. It’s not the same as when people get famous in L.A. or Chicago or Atlanta. It’s almost twice the journey, I see it as twice as hard. And if you look back you had UGK and DJ Screw, Lil Keke, Fat Pat, then came the Paul Wall’s, you had Chamillionaire, Lil‘ Flip, Mike Jones, then you go with the next generation with Travi$ Scott and Riff Raff.” What Riff is pointing out, is that deep in Houston, and deep in Texas— hours from another state—these artists are heroes and legends, but outside of Texas, they haven’t been as accepted. But these are artists who, in their prime popularity, worked just as hard as rappers from Atlanta and Chicago. Riff seems to identify with this disconnect.
Riff Raff is a rapper, but, better: an entertainer. His birth name is Horst Simco, he sometimes goes by other names: Jody Highroller, NEON iCON, Peach Panther, Neon Don, Neon Python, and there are more. Riff would tell you all the names are the same person. He burst into the collective pop culture consciousness from an MTV show, but that’s only a footnote at this point. In the seven years since he’s toured the U.S. before and during the release of two full-length albums, NEON iCON in 2014, and Peach Panther in late June of this year. He’s recorded about a dozen mixtapes with endless guest appearances on songs, he’s been mimicked by James Franco in a Harmony Korine film (but that’s only a footnote at this point) and he has a penchant for adding new colorful phrases to the world: aquaberry blue, tan Deion Sanders, butterscotch Barry Bonds, kiwi kush cream filling.
If you don’t know about Riff Raff you might google him, and you might see what many people see: a white guy with braids, jewelry, a metal grill on his teeth, kaleidoscopic clothing—an overall eccentric person. And you might judge him immediately, and you might move on, “He looks fa-ake,” you might belch out, misting your laptop with Sprite. To be sure, plenty of people have done it. Keep looking. He’s real. Follow Riff Raff on Instagram, Twitter, or Vine (a platform that brought him many fans) for any prolonged period and you’ll see there is something honest about the guy that sets him apart from the prevailing machismo that plagues both hip-hop and a male-dominated music industry. If you underestimate or stereotype Riff Raff, you do so at the risk of missing out on one of the most unique entertainers alive. Riff Raff is not egoless, and he’s not flawless, but he’s not hiding any part of his personality.
Perhaps what makes Riff Raff interesting is that he comes with having no filter, he is not capable of pretense. You could say there are a lot of celebrities that have no filter— but when I ask Riff who the most important people are in his life, his voice softens and he says, “My kids: my dogs Holly and Jody Husky.” Pictures of the two huskies are plastered all over his social media, he also has a tattoo of Jody stretching from his shoulder to his neck. The Riff Raff I have before me, is the one I suspected I’d meet, the one I’ve seen for years online.
Ten weeks ago, Riff posted an Instagram image of his father, Ronald Simco, a Vietnam veteran now deceased, that says: HAPPY BiRTHDAY TO MY DAD i WiSH i COULD GO BACK iN TiME AND SPEND THiS DAY WiTH MY POPS WHATEVER YEAR iT WAS AND iN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EVERYONE WOULD MAKE FUN OF MY NAME BECUZ HE NAMED ME HORST SiMCO SO PEOPLE WOULD CALL ME “HORSE” AND i HATED MY NAME AND ALWAYS WANTED TO CHANGE MY NAME BUT NOW iTS THE ONLY THiNG i HAVE LEFT THAT MY DAD EVER GAVE ME AND i WOULD NEVER CHANGE MY NAME.
This year Riff signed a partnership with BMG worth $4 million; it includes music, but also film, TV, and other creative endeavors in which Riff Raff is the curator. The company is called Neon Nation Corporation. Riff explains in the press release that he’s “excited to announce my new $4,000,000 Neon Nation Corporation, which is more than just a record label. We’ll be investing in movies and talent across the globe to build an entertainment empire not just in music.” Can you imagine another rapper writing this press release?
Peach Panther itself is a very good record and Riff Raff’s most cohesive to-date. It may not get the fanfare that Drake gets for Views, or the critical acclaim that YG has gotten for Still Brazy—but as a document it shows Riff Raff gearing up for something special, for a continuous output of work, for something bigger.
“What do repercussions mean to you?” I ask.
“It varies. It depends on what you put out there, and who is holding it against you,” he says, then waxing hypothetical, “Who are you dealing with and what is the price you have to pay—and is that price worth it?”
Riff Raff seems torn between wanting to be accepted and continuing to be himself. With acceptance, itself, in the throes of a worldwide ght, this seems an apt personal, professional, societal narrative. Riff Raff as global microcosm. However, Riff can only be himself, and he knows that. Self-preservation will push Riff Raff to continue to push forward with his music, humor, entertainment, and image; so sit back, and try to accept you’re a lucky recipient of that wonder. On April 14, 2014, Riff Raff tweeted: U CANT MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY SO FOCUS ON MAKiNG YOURSELF HAPPY SO THAT MAYBE YOUR HAPPiNESS CAN BE CONTAGiOUS TO THE ONES YOU LET iN YOUR LiFE