I haven’t met Rikki Blu, but I feel like I have.
It only took one song for me to make my transformation into full-fledged Rikki Blu fan girl. But, to be fair, he didn’t really have any chill about doing this interview either. When we first reached out to him about an interview, his acceptance went something along the lines of: “OMGOMGOMGOMG!!!! YESSSSSSSS! I WOULD LOVE TO!”
The 23 year old LA-based rapper, originally from the southeast corner of Dallas referred to as Pleasant Grove, is an unlikely candidate for success.
“You have to understand the gravity of making it out of [Pleasant Grove],” Blu says. “Whether it’s socioeconomic or a conspiracy or whatever, it is not set up for us to make it out. You can only grow to become a product of our surroundings and not everyone has that opportunity to be something else.”
Rikki, who didn’t originally have aspirations to be a rapper, left Pleasant Grove to attend Middle Tennessee State. There he studied music production and played football. It was there that he met and collaborated with Isaiah Rashad and all the members of rap crew “The House.” Just when he thought he had it all mapped out, he broke his laptop and his MPC [music production controller] was stolen. After that, Rikki just started rapping.
On our first phone call it’s raining, hard. We’d already had a rather ill-advised series of DMs earlier in the day, sending each other pictures of the traffic we are stuck in: his on sunny LA freeways vs. mine on pitch-black, rainy Dallas tollways. Still, it’s almost an hour later than we had planned. Rikki is at a high school football game with friends (hence the delay); it’s a pretty funny setting to take a phone call in. That being said, I can’t judge. I’m having happy hour on my porch while my editor Vicky is breathing down my neck, making sure I don’t spend this whole interview making plans to hang out with Rikki when he comes back to Dallas.
“My overall tone isn’t meant to be seen as dark or morbid, but rather raw, vibrant and kinesthetic so to speak. My music allows me to express myself unapologetically”
His next project, Pleasant Grove, named after his hometown, was released on Christmas Day. “Round Here,” produced by Free P, featuring Strado and Childish Major, is his latest single. The single already shows signs of his development as an artist, and reflects a level of insight and craftsmanship, that makes Rikki so powerful.
On the phone now, a month before the song’s release, he compares his new songs with his music partner, Hevy Ben$, to Outkast. Vicky and I joke a little about it later, but now we see what he means. The song—and entire album—is a lot more colorful and optimistic than his past work. You can sense his rapid development as an artist.
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I’m drawn to Rikki’s music. His voice is raspy and his lyrics work through his difficult life experiences in a consistently thoughtful, intuitive, and complex way. “I’d like to think that we are all dynamic creatures,” Rikki says. “My mom always taught me to never let anyone steal your joy, and that’s kinda what I try to embody in my personal experiences. I’ve seen a lot. Maybe more than my fair share, so my overall tone isn’t meant to be seen as dark or morbid, but rather raw, vibrant and kinesthetic so to speak. My music allows me to express myself unapologetically. Where certain feelings wouldn’t be socially acceptable, music allows me to express certain emotions and to flow a little bit more freely.”
Rikki is committed to creating an aesthetic and sense of community around his work. He extends his ideas into a streetwear brand named Infantry, focused on mobilizing young creatives. “Infantry is a vehicle for the whole campaign I have coming out,” Blu says “It’s all about mobilizing the youth and showing people that you aren’t by yourself in this. The more you think you are by yourself, the more you will be. It’s all about that shared experience and collectively coming together for something greater than us. Greater than a CEO or a founder, it’s more so about respecting each other’s creativity more than anything. It’s not a clique or a gang. It’s just a group of creatives that aren’t only rooted in great music, but great ideas as well. As long as we come up with great ideas, it won’t ever die.”
A lot of Rikki’s vision is a reflection of his desire to motivate our generation, which is #highkey one of the things in the world I care about the most.
“We were born ‘92, ‘93, so we were still alive to see the pre-internet world. We remember it vividly, we didn’t have Facebook and Instagram to occupy our time, you were really outside with it,” he says. “But we were also there for the inception of the internet. I think having that dual experience really gave us a completely different outlook, not only from the kids coming up right now who only see the internet, but also the people who didn’t make it to that point. Growing up with that connection not only to the outside world, but to real life experiences, our gauge our range is a lot greater than normal.”
I have a chronic problem where I interrupt people when I’m excited, but at this moment I’m struck by how insightful Rikki is about creatives of our generation. People think we are all just taking quizzes on BuzzFeed and asking our parents to fund our passion projects, but here Rikki and I are both independently creating and having a constructive conversation about what we are doing to follow through with our ideas. I wonder out loud why people are all so ready to dismiss our ideas as half-baked when we are so acutely aware of what we want to do.
Rikki gets it. “That’s the thing, if we want to rise up and make changes, all we have to do is decide that’s what we really want to do because we can do it,” he says. “I think the problem with us socially is that we don’t realize how much we do have, and we are waiting for someone to save us. We are waiting on those leaders, but in reality we are all those leaders that we are waiting for.”
I have to insist on a moment of silence here.
“We are waiting for someone to save us. We are waiting on those leaders, but in reality we are all those leaders that we are waiting for”
Rikki’s outlook on the faults of millennials is all too real to me. But it’s a motivating sentiment, and something I don’t hear nearly enough. Rikki and I are both creators of media, and in that we have a great responsibility to find, represent, and really be those leaders. I express this and ask him how he thinks someone can grow into this when it seems like people are so invested in putting your ideas down.
“I have to rise above a lot the bullshit I am presented with. If I belittle myself and address it, I only take away from my own glory,” Rikki says. “My brother always tells me, life is what you subscribe to. If you subscribe to that bullshit, bullshit is gonna come right through your front door. Negativity is only as important as you make it. So it’s not important in my life. Fuck it, really.”
By this point, I’m feeling this interview so much. Rikki and I have really varying life experiences and our crafts are so different, but the connections between our life outlook are jarring. Nothing gets me like talking about how the internet and a subscription to positivity have allowed people like Rikki and myself to connect and share our experiences. But before we finish, I have to get back to what initially drew me to Rikki, his music, and the way he uses it to express himself. I ask him what makes him feel most like himself; the answer comes easy.
He tells me: “It’s performing, but it’s a specific part of performing. Me being 6’8” and performing on stage, people stare at me for a really long time trying to decide if they like me or not. That moment when you see somebody turn into a fan, when they have the inhibitions, but you watch the hater on their face disappear, that smile, that genuine level of understanding, I can see it whenever I think about it. When you’re introduced to a straight up stranger and you are able to share your music, your soul. Through all the hate and shit, they accept it, and I guess that’s what I push for, what makes me happy as an artist, that makes me feel what I’m doing is what I’m actually supposed to be doing.”
“When you’re introduced to a straight up stranger and you are able to share your music, your soul. Through all the hate and shit, they accept it, and I guess that’s what I push for, what makes me happy as an artist, that makes me feel what I’m doing is what I’m actually supposed to be doing.”
Later, when I’m on deadline, Rikki texts me with some updates on how “lit the whole team is.” And it’s true. As he fills me in on what’s been going on in the past month, he tells me, “I came to LA with $60 in my pocket and a one-way plane ticket. Now everything is lining up the way we saw it.”
He’s on the come up. It’s a good time to be Rikki Blu.
Keep up with Rikki on Soundcloud and Twitter
See Rikki’s Story in Austere Ego.