In rap music, innovation is now widely considered an ultimate virtue. “I pretty much won’t even rap on a beat unless it’s got some magic element of new tempo or new pocket, where I hear myself and feel like I’ve stumbled upon something new,” Drake told The FADER last summer. “I pray for that...I’ll take that over sex, partying. Give me that feeling.”
Arguably, though, newness is prized nowhere so much as it is in Atlanta, where even the mutations are mutated. There is no signature Atlanta sound, and the city has no roots to stay loyal to, Kelefa Sanneh and Will Welsh argued in their 2010 book, Atlanta. Instead, new things play themselves out faster there, and newer things replace them.
This doesn’t happen just by accident or genius: to arrive at something novel almost always requires a lot of tries. Which means artists have a constant hunger for producers who are prolific and also fresh. This is how Mike WiLL came to power, and how Metro Boomin followed.
Richie Souf, a 21-year-old who lives in the suburb Riverdale with his parents, is now poised to join their ranks. He produced standouts from November’s ILOVEMAKONNEN 2, MADEINTYO’s breakout “I Want,” and has locked in with Future. Today, he debuted a heartening R&B song with PnB Rock. During his first-ever trip to New York in January, he talked about taking meetings with publishers, and why, with major collaborations on the horizon, he imagines he’ll stay living at home.
What was your upbringing like?
I don't come from a music family. I'm the only person that does music. My parents were just all about making sure that I’m OK in life. Whatever I want to do, if I'm doing good at it, they'll support it. My mom is Vietnamese and Italian, and my dad is Cambodian. After the Vietnam War, my mom's family came over to Georgia, which is where they met. My mom is a chef at the Hilton, she speaks fluent English. My dad speaks English here and there, and he speaks Vietnamese too. He's a forklift operator.
Do your parents like rap music?
No. They don't understand it. But they know I like it, so they support it. I still stay with them. They're OK with me playing music loud.
How did you get into rap?
Growing up, I was listening to Ja Rule, Fat Joe, Cassidy, all that early-2000s stuff. But after 2005 and up, my auntie, she put me on to Gucci Mane. I was really young, listening to Gucci Mane. She listened to too much Gucci and got me into it. My auntie, she was a big influence on my music and how I live. She had a lot of tattoos. I was 16 when I started getting tattoos, and now I have more than her. She's 25.
What was the Asian community in your neighborhood like?
There's a whole bunch of Cambodians in Georgia. We have temples. They're not like the temples you might think of, with the tall buildings. It's just like a house. Every year in April there's Cambodian New Years and people go to the temples and just hang out, eat, pray.
But I was always coming up in a black community. That's just who I was around. I didn't really hang out with Asian people a lot, they were into different stuff.
When did you start making beats?
I started when I was 12. There's this movie called Hustle & Flow. Have you seen that? There's a scene where they make a beat. When I saw that it put a bug in my head like, This is cool, I want to try it. And then my friend gave me the cracked version of Fruity Loops and told me to experiment. At first it was a hobby. I saw what other people were doing on YouTube. I was learning. Then I started selling beats online, when I was 14, 15. On Soundclick. That's where everybody sold their beats. In 2011, I had a song with Soulja Boy, “Rollin,” that kinda went viral. I had sent it to his email and he made a song out of it and a video. People knew about it; in my school I was kinda like the cool kid at the time.
Did you graduate high school?
I didn't. School wasn't for me. I was too focused on music at that time. I was like, "This is what I want to do, so I can't go to school." I was really just in the house, making beats, trying to focus on being good.
What gear do you use?
I use Fruity Loops. I start with chords and I do melodies, then I'll create a bounce with it, with drums. It usually takes 30 minutes to an hour, to finish a beat. I do it [while I’m] sober. Fruity Loops is so simple. People download it all of the time because of how easy it is and how it looks, but you can really make some hits on it. Mike WiLL, Metro, Sonny, they all use Fruity Loops. I learned to play piano too. I'm kind of good now, I guess.
After it was your hobby, how did you make producing your career?
I gave up [selling beats online] in like 2014. I didn't want to be an online producer all my life. I was looking for quarters just to buy McChickens. I didn't have money.
Then, on January 6, 2015, the first person I met before everything kicked off was Mike WiLL. He was at a record store near where I stay at, and he tweeted the address. So I rushed to Wal-Mart so I could buy blank CDs so I could burn beats, and I went to the record store and I gave the CD to Mike's manager, B. Wright. From there on, B. Wright's been helping me.
But what really put my out there was when Makonnen rapped on my beat, for "Where Your Girl At." That song went everywhere, and it gave me the co-sign. Before it, people probably were like, "Oh yeah, Richie's beats go hard." But after Makonnen it was like, "I'ma fuck with Richie, cause Makonnen's fucking with Richie." MADEINTYO reached out to me, through a mutual friend named Villa. His name wasn't MADEINTYO at the time. When I sent him beats, "I Want" came about. We was talking about it the other day, and he said that song changed him. It gave him a whole new sound. It changed his name. He and I are close. We have a "I Want" remix coming out, with A$AP Rocky.
Everybody who I used to listen to, and look up to, I'm meeting them now. Before my song with Makonnen, I used to listen to Makonnen a lot.
How’d you get into the studio with Future?
He called my phone. Future's videographer Pat told Future about me, and Future called me right away. He wanted me to come by that same day, and we made three songs. My hands were shaking, like, "I'm on the phone with the biggest rap star in the game right now, and that doesn't happen." Now I'll send him beats, or I'll pull up on him in the studio when he's in the city. He’ll ask me like, "Who's hot right now." Or, "Who is this?" I have 10 songs with Future.
What do you think he finds attractive about you as a collaborator?
He told me he wanted a new sound and he liked what I do. That's why he fucks with me. Cause I'm different, I'm new, I'm on the come up. I have a lot of influence from big, top Atlanta producers: Zaytoven, Shawty Redd, Lex Luger. But Richie Souf is a mixture of all of that into one. It sounds Atlanta, but it's different. And I'm easy to work with. I'm a people person. I like to make friends. It's not always about business. That's important: you gotta make friends and build relationships.
Last year, Meek Mill, Drake, and Quentin Miller sparked a conversation about how rap songs are written. Ghostwriters exist. Are there also ghost producers?
I feel like there are ghost producers. Like, there are people in the forefront, but there's somebody behind the scenes making the beats for them.
You haven’t ever shown your face online. Why?
It's mysterious. If you don't know something, you want to figure out what it is. I think it makes people want to come to me more. They'll be like, "Who is this? I like his hair, I like his beats, but what does he look like?"
Producers like Mike WiLL and Metro Boomin also took care, early on, to brand themselves, independently of the people they were working with. Now Metro can perform on festivals as a DJ, and Mike has a label. Looking ahead, do you want to be a big brand like that?
Right now, I'm really focused on being established as a producer and making the best music with everybody. I tell everybody, I just want to plant one tree and make sure it's the best tree it can be.
I've never had a job in my life, cause I made money on beats. I got my first check from Warner the other day. That was my first check I ever got in my entire life. I never held a check, I never had my own check.