Ramriddlz should have been preparing for the first week of his junior year at Ryerson University in Toronto. Instead, he was standing on top of a table in the middle of a storefront on New York’s Lower East Side, breathing sexual entendres into a microphone and undulating his belly, bare underneath an open Hawaiian shirt. Supreme boxers peaked out over a pair of tight black jeans, and on his feet he wore unreleased OVO Jordan 10s—the white-and-gold shoes were likely a gift from Drake, just as his newfound fame is.
If you’ve heard of Ramriddlz, it’s likely because of Drake. This summer, on the same day that the so-bad-it’s-good video for the 21-year-old’s first single “Sweeterman” began going locally viral on Toronto Twitter, a snippet of what sounded like a Drake remix of the song surfaced. Weeks later, Drake and his manager Oliver El-Khatib played an all-Aubrey version of the track on OVO Sound Radio, broadcasting it, and Ram’s rising profile, to untold numbers of listeners. Since then, Ram has released an EP on SoundCloud, worked with dancehall producer Dubbel Dutch, and performed shows in a handful of Canadian and American cities, including the weekend-long pop-up shop that brought him to the Lower East Side in September.
“It’s just, literally, I’ve recognized the potential and the greatness in this piece, and I want to take my stab at it too,” Drake told The FADER in his recent cover story, explaining the choice to record his own version of “Sweeterman.” The song’s greatness, and much of Ram’s work since, is difficult to bracket. There are tinkling samples and fuzzy guitar riffs over dancehall grooves, and a post-regional mash-up of patois, Somali, Arabic, and Toronto slang—all filtered through his imperfect but strangely appealing whine of a voice.
And then there’s the lyrics. Ram’s calling card is stacked, pun-filled bars referencing sex and drugs, set to melodies so sweet and catchy that it’s easy to miss the ridiculousness on first listen. His P2P EP—the title is an acronym for the phrase “pussy too pink”—begins with Ram ululating over a Jaegen-produced beat, I, I, I, I, I, I, I/ Have a pen-i-i-i-i-i-is/ For your vagi-i-i-i-i-in/ Girl I, I, I, I, I, I, I. On one song alone, the SoundCloud loosie “Run Top? Freestyle,” he sings lyrics like, Them two lips like tulips (look like tulips)/ Monica, play harmonica, she blow better, as well as, She got a man, but I got a Mandingo. To match, he has an omnipresent adlib, a bird call derivative of Jadakiss’ infamous A-ha! At any given moment, it sounds like Ramriddlz is making fun of either the listener or himself.
“Every time someone hears my music they're like, ‘Is this a joke? Did he really just say that?’,” Ram told The FADER late in the summer. Really, his nascent career can be more accurately described as an accident. Balanced on a swivelly chair in the small office he and his manager rent in a basement in Mississauga, a suburb-turned-city that unfurls to Toronto’s west, he explains that “Sweeterman” was the first song he ever wrote and recorded. A year-and-a-half ago, Ramy Abdel-Rahman, now 21, was in a friend’s studio in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, just hanging out. While some guys were behind the boards or in the booth, he was playing the flirt. “I was in the studio literally talking to a girl and she was like, 'Oh, I don't even smoke weed' and I was like, 'I know you want to' and shit like that,” says Ram, referencing a line from the song’s hook. His friend, the producer Jordan Francis, quickly composed a beat to sit under his off-the-cuff melody. “He literally made it in, like, five minutes. It was crazy,” says Ram. He recorded a 10-minute freestyle overtop—a chopped up and edited version of which is now recognizable as “Sweeterman.” “A year-and-a-half ago it was literally just me and my friends who would listen to the song. People who know me know it was my ringtone and shit,” he says.
Back then, he was shuttling between two part-time jobs, at Value Village and in the kitchen of a restaurant, and university, where he struggled in his program studying graphics and web design. He eventually found himself on academic probation and at a crossroads. His ambitions to land a professional career to please his parents—Egyptian immigrants whose efforts in Canada deserved to be rewarded by their children’s success, he says—didn’t mesh with his own nontraditional academic inclinations. When a family friend showed his mom the video for “Sweeterman,” which featured scenes shot in his parents’ house, his mom was upset, unable to reconcile Ram’s newly emerged artistic aspirations with the future she imagined for him. “My parents don't even care about money, in a sense. My parents care about education more than anything,” he says. “I just sell them dreams. I tell them I'm going to go back to school or whatever but who knows? I’m not really planning on failing at this.”
Music had always been just for fun and friends. “If we're chilling, sometimes we'll freestyle, like when the beat’s playing and shit. But I never wrote music or I never thought, like, ‘Damn I want to do this, like I want to be an artist or something’,” he says. When affirmation came in the form of encouragement from OVO’s Oliver El-Khatib, it began to feel real and possible. Ram is hesitant to describe exactly how the song ended up in OVO's purview, saying only that "it's crazy to always be asked about Drake, but I'm grateful. I was never making music before. It's just like when I got the positive feedback [from Oliver] that I was like, ‘Maybe I should do this,” he says.
Appropriately, Oliver was in the crowd at Ram’s first ever show, a headlining gig at a downtown Toronto venue on the night before this year’s OVO Fest. When he took to the stage dressed in an unbuttoned baby pink jersey emblazoned with his pineapple logo, his charm was clear. The hometown crowd loved his swagger, and understands innately how an Egyptian kid from outside Toronto winds up singing dancehall songs. For Ram, those threads are irrelevant. “There's a lot of cultures. Like, I don't even do it intentionally. It just kind of happens. One of my friends is Jamaican, and he kind of put me on that. We use to chill with some girls who listened to that type of music, and I guess it rubbed off on me a bit,” he says. The mix of immigrant demographics and cultures—more than 50 percent of the Greater Toronto Area’s residents are foreign-born—is a fact of life for so many of the city’s second- and third-generation immigrants, so he doesn't second-guess it. It's a reflection of the cultural blueprint that Drake has recently begun laying down. As Toronto becomes recognizable as a center of cultural production and not just a provincial, scaled-down New York, its residents are increasingly proud of—or at least less self-conscious about—leaning into its unique culture. At home, he is already understood; now he must find out whether the rest of the world can understand too. “Things are kind of going good. I don't want to jinx myself.”