Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 3, 2012

Riff Raff

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 1:52 pm


NY Times September 2, 2012

Is Riff Raff Eccentric? Yes. Next Question?


The Riff Raff concert on Thursday night at Santos Party House began with a news conference, podium and all, except it wasn’t nearly a news conference. It was after midnight in a sweaty, crowded nightclub, and Riff Raff, wearing a pink neon windbreaker, mostly took banal questions from the crowd: Will Riff Raff bring the rice out? “Rice shall be brought.” (More on the rice later.) Does Riff Raff play basketball? “I hoop so good I damn near could’ve been Sheryl Swoopes.”

These are farcical answers to inane questions, or, viewed another way, one small act in a very long play.

There’s nothing transparent about Riff Raff, one of the most indelibly eccentric figures in contemporary hip-hop, engaged in either a grand act of performance art, or an equally grand act of outsider art. He is a character, through and through. He rebuffs efforts to draw out the details of his past. There may not be anything on the inside.

But what’s on the outside is deliciously absurd, often transfixingly interesting and sometimes actually great. Riff Raff is a white rapper originally from the Houston area with awesomely lustrous hair, a thin stripe of beard sometimes cut in a way that resembles an EKG, and tattoos that include the logos of BET and MTV. (He was once a contestant on “From G’s to Gents,” an MTV reality competition in which Fonzworth Bentley tried to spiff up a gaggle of hip-hop hoodlums.)

He does make songs too, lots of them, at a level of production almost on a par with his former mentor Soulja Boy in 2007-8, or Lil B in 2010. And like Lil B he’s cultivated his own shorthand and lingo. Like “bringing the rice out,” which in one version refers to cocaine, but in another is equivalent to living over the top. When he puts words together, it’s seemingly at random, and almost always fantastical: a game of Mad Libs come to life.

He also has a knack for inserting himself into the center of hip-hop Internet flares. When the pixie-rap starlet Kitty Pryde arrived, within days Riff Raff was on a plane to Daytona Beach to record “Orion’s Belt,” a deliriously amusing song and video with her. Similarly, not long after the menacing young Chicago rapper Chief Keef began to achieve YouTube infamy, there was Riff Raff, partnering with him for “Cuz My Gear,” one of the year’s oddest collaborations. Chief Keef is a literalist, all square jaw and mean thoughts. Riff Raff is something else, opening the song like this:

Holograms on my hand gave me a tan wrist

Diamonds dancing on my fist look like a blank disc

Teriyaki soup with the lemon Fanta

Heavyweight, heartburn, Mylanta.

He performed that last during this concert, capping a bizarre show that began with that news conference and lasted maybe 20 minutes, including a midset intermission. He wore a headset microphone that he sometimes rapped into and sometimes used to obscure the fact that he wasn’t rapping at all. His hype man wore a T-shirt with an airbrushed image of Riff Raff’s face on it.

As a concert it was mystifying; as a spectacle it was impressively committed. His best songs have unlikely, catchy choruses: “Deion Sandals” was a high point here, as was “Lil Mama I’m Sorry.” Only “Hologram Benz,” a blowzy dubstep track from his recent mixtape “Birth of an Icon,” was an obvious misstep.

Riff Raff recently signed with Mad Decent, the label of Diplo, the genre-crossing producer, which means that at least one part of his character is becoming etched in stone: He’s a rapper, not merely a cut-from-whole-cloth personality who uses rap as one of many mediums. Songs, albums, the money that changes hands in a record deal, those are tangible things, not fantastical ones.

This year Riff Raff suggested that the character played by James Franco in the coming Harmony Korine film “Spring Breakers” was based on him (and that he was initially offered the role). In a subsequent interview Mr. Franco rebuffed the notion. When James Franco is casting aspersions on your relationship to truth, you must be existing well beyond known boundaries. But Riff Raff is an inventor above all. Certainly Mr. Franco knows a kindred spirit when he sees one, but if it’s true that he’ll be playing a version of Riff Raff — a character based on a character — will Riff Raff himself cease to exist? No one asked him that.


  1. Thanks for posting. Fun video & song. The last time I consistently listened to Hip Hop it was called Rap but I was wondering when a truly interesting white artist would appear on the scene with something different to offer, I always found the talented Eminen’s super serious, pouting self regard a little tired. As for Harmony Korine, I’m still waiting for a decent follow up to Gummo.

    Comment by Rick — September 3, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

  2. Call me old but the kind of Hip Hop that I thought had a future back in ’82 was “The Message” by Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five:\

    It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder – How I keep from going under – It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder – How I keep from going under…

    Broken glass everywhere — People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care.
    I can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise.

    Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice.

    Rats in the front room, roaches in the back. Junkie’s in the alley with a baseball bat.

    I tried to get away, but I couldn’t get far ‘Cause a man with a tow-truck repossessed my car.

    Chorus: Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge — I’m trying not to lose my head, ah huh-huh-huh [2nd and 5th: ah huh-huh-huh] [4th: say what?]

    It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder — How I keep from going under.

    It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder — How I keep from going under.

    Standing on the front stoop, hangin’ out the window — Watching all the cars go by, roaring as the breezes blow.

    Crazy lady livin’ in a bag — Eatin’ out of garbage pails, she used to be a fag-hag.

    Said she danced the tango, skipped the light fandango — The Zircon Princess seemed to lost her senses.

    Down at the peepshow, watching all the creeps — So she can tell the stories to the girls back home.

    She went to the city and got Social Security — She had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own.

    [2nd Chorus]

    My brother’s doing bad on my mother’s TV– Says she watches too much, it’s just not healthy — “All My Children” in the daytime, “Dallas” at night — Can’t even see the game or the Sugar Ray fight.

    The bill collectors they ring my phone — And scare my wife when I’m not home.

    Got a bum education, double-digit inflation — Can’t take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station.

    Neon King Kong standin’ on my back — Can’t stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac.

    A mid-range migraine, cancered membrane — Sometimes I think I’m going insane, I swear I might hijack a plane

    [ From: http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-message-lyrics-grandmaster-flash.html ][3rd Chorus]

    My son said: ”Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school — Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool — And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper.

    I’d dance to the beat, shuffle my feet — Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps.

    Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny — You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey.”

    They pushed that girl in front of the train — Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again.

    Stabbed that man right in his heart — Gave him a transplant for a brand new start.

    I can’t walk through the park, cause it’s crazy after dark — Keep my hand on my gun, cause they got me on the run.

    I feel like a outlaw, broke my last glass jaw– Hear them say: “You want some more?” livin’ on a seesaw.

    [4th Chorus]

    A child is born with no state of mind — Blind to the ways of mankind.

    God is smiling on you but he’s frowning too — Because only God knows what you’ll go through.

    You’ll grow in the ghetto, living second rate — And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate.

    The places you play and where you stay — Looks like one great big alley way.

    You’ll admire all the number book takers — Thugs, pimps, pushers and the big money makers — Driving big cars, spending twenties and tens — And you wanna grow up to be just like them, huh, Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers, pickpockets, peddlers even panhandlers .

    You say: “I’m cool, I’m no fool!” But then you wind up dropping out of high school.

    Now you’re unemployed, all null & void — Walking ‘round like you’re Pretty Boy Floyd — Turned stickup kid, look what you’ve done did — Got sent up for a eight year bid.

    Now your manhood is took and you’re a name tag — Spent the next two years as a undercover fag — Being used and abused to serve like hell ‘Til one day you was found hung dead in your cell.

    It was plain to see that your life was lost — You was cold and your body swung back and forth — But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song — Of how you lived so fast and died so young.

    [5th Chorus]

    Read more: GRANDMASTER FLASH – THE MESSAGE LYRICS http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-message-lyrics-grandmaster-flash.html#ixzz25SLmfKUp
    Copied from MetroLyrics.com

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 4, 2012 @ 12:52 am

  3. i’ve heard of this socially conscious rap. It was before my time. And then it spiraled into self absorbed panegyrics. How in god’s name did that happen? Was the black community broken somehow?

    Comment by Pandora — September 4, 2012 @ 1:53 am

  4. In ’84 Harry Bellafonte recognized the talent & prophetic political poetry of Master Melle and even incorporated it in to a movie: “Beat Street”.


    A newspaper burns in the sand
    And the headlines say ‘Man Destroys Man’
    Extra extra, read all the bad news
    On the war for peace that everybody would lose
    The rise and fall, the last great empire
    The sound of the whole world caught on fire
    The ruthless struggle, the desperate gamble
    The game that left the whole world in shambles
    The cheats, the lies, the alibies
    And the foolish attempts to conquer the sky
    Lost in space, and what is it worth?
    Huh, the President just forgot about Earth
    Spendin multi-billions and maybe even trillions
    The cost of weapons ran in the zillions
    There’s gold in the street and there’s diamond under feet
    And the children in Africa don’t even eat
    Flies on their faces, they’re livin like mice
    And their houses even make the ghetto look nice
    Huh, the water tastes funny, it’s forever too sunny
    And they work all month and don’t make no money
    A fight for power, a nuclear shower
    A people shout out in the darkest hour
    Sights unseen and voices unheard
    And finally the bomb gets the last word
    Christians killed Muslims and Germans killed Jews
    And everybody’s bodies are used and abused
    Huh, minds are poisoned and souls are polluted
    Superiority complex is deep rooted
    Leeches and lices, and people got prices
    Egomaniacs control the self-righteous
    Nothin is sacred and nothin is pure
    So the revelation of death is our cure
    Peoples in terror, the leaders made a error
    And now they can’t even look in the mirror
    Cause we gotta suffer while things get rougher
    And that’s the reason why we got to get tougher
    So learn from the past and work for the future
    And don’t be a slave to no computer
    Cause the children of Man inherit the land
    And the future of the world is in your hands
    So just throw your hands in the air
    And wave em like you just don’t care
    And if you believe that you’re the future
    Scream it out and say oh yeah (Oh yeah)
    Oh yeah (Oh yeah)
    Beat Street Breakdown, rrrrhaa!


    This passage above starts at 2:48 in this clip below which even includes a passage about Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam & the Philappines not included in the official lyrics above:

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 5, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

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