Roddy Ricch's breakout track, "Die Young," isn't exactly what you would think of when you think of a hit rap song. There's no hashtagged challenge to go along with it and no big name feature attached to it. The song, released with a video in July, is a different sort of rap anthem, a world-weary ballad that connects because of its urgency and relatability.
Much of the Compton rapper's catalog mines these same experiences that he sings about from the pit of his stomach on "Die Young": the threat of an early death or a long prison sentence for himself, and the loved ones in his native Wilmington Arms projects who've met those fates. "A lot of my shit is just based off my real life," Roddy Ricch told me over the phone, "What I feel, and the things I go through every day."
Though Compton has a storied rap history, in our conversation, Roddy Ricch stressed that he had never seen any examples of musical success come from his section. With two mixtapes already under his belt, and a guest spot on Meek Mill's new album Championships, the 20-year-old is looking to become the first.
I read that you started taking rap seriously about two or three years ago. What was going on in your life around that time?
A lot more death in the streets. Growing up, getting older, friends getting lost to prison. You tend to want to do something that’ll help you make it out of that.
Before that, what did your interest in music look like?
I dibbled and dabbled but I didn’t think rap made money like that, to be honest. I wasn’t in it for the money. I thought it was part of the act. I had never met a rapper. I don’t believe in things that I can’t see. The only niggas that I seen with money were on the block, getting to it, for real. I thought of rappers as actors basically. But, I mean, I enjoyed music.
What did you listen to growing up?
I’m pretty young so I was listening to Speaker Knockerz, Future, Young Thug when he first came out. I listened to Lil Wayne a lot when I was kid.
It’s interesting you said Speaker Knockerz because I can definitely hear some similarities in your melodies and your delivery.
Yeah, most definitely that’s one of my biggest inspirations.
A lot of people in the YouTube comments say your music has a Southern sound to it.
I just feel like it’s my sound. I was influenced by different people. I wasn’t just influenced by the West Coast, even though that’s where I’m from and that’s where I’m at. I was also traveling a lot when I grew up. My first trip somewhere out the state was Chicago and it just went on from there.
Why were you traveling so much?
Sometimes it was family. My great-grandma is still alive; she’s from Louisiana so I spent time there. I got family in Atlanta, Mississippi, New York, all over the place. Sometimes I’d be out there trying to make something happen.
I was rooted always out here, running around in the streets and shit. But I got to see other things that people never got to see, experience, or feel out here. Maybe people don’t understand what I got going ‘cause they haven’t been able to experience that but maybe one day they can.
What’s your favorite place you’ve been to?
I like Atlanta a lot but no place beats my house. I just like the Black success in Atlanta. I loved being surrounded by that.
“I don’t believe in things that I can’t see.”
How did your relationship with Meek Mill develop?
I was in Atlanta, and I had heard that Omelly had already heard my music. Me and Meek had ended up being in the same studio so we linked up. I was playing him some songs and shit. We’ve been linked ever since and been talking.
Is there a piece of advice that he gave you that really stuck out?
It’s a lot. Mainly, he just be like, “Get out the hood.” I feel like that’s probably the most important advice he’s given me. Some rappers be laying jewels and this and that but that’s like he’s trying to save my life. If I’m dead there’s no point in even telling me those jewels.
Have you been taking that advice?
I respect him for it, and I take heed to it. I do go back to my projects but it be more on a positive tip, trying to give back to the kids. I don’t just hang out no more....I’m lying. But I don’t just hang out like I used to.
You said you’d never seen any real successful rappers first-hand growing up but L.A. has such a historical place in rap.
Yeah, but it ain’t L.A., though. It’s Compton.
I mean Compton has had huge rappers, too.
Nobody from my projects, though. You got Kendrick Lamar but he’s more on the Westside, as in by Centennial [High School]. You might not understand if you’re not from here. YG is from another side. I met Kendrick when I was younger but he’s not really the flashy type. You’d never know if he had a dollar or a million dollars. I don’t know these dudes personally. I didn’t witness it. But I did witness people like my Uncles getting money. Like, Oh, he went from having a Charger to a Bentley in six months.
Did the success of “Die Young” surprise you at all?
I recorded it like everything else. When I put things out, I don’t really be expecting nothing. If I put it out then I feel like it’s a good song. I treat it all the same. Everything I put out, I like it. If we had bet, I wouldn’t have said it would be a hit, though.
The reason I ask is because it’s not really a stereotypical "hit." It’s a really emotional, painful song.
Most definitely, but that’s a lot of my songs. Some just present pain in a more acceptable way. I do talk about getting to the money and feeling good about cashing out and this and that. But it’s still a pain story behind it.
What do you mean “present pain in a more acceptable way”?
You know how you try to put the truth on somebody but you say it in a less painful way? You can either say, “Your dog died,” or you can be like, “We had to put him down.” Either way, it died. But it’s one way to say it harshly and one way to ease ‘em into it. So I could say, “My dog, he passed away,” or I could say, “My dog was on a high-speed chase and he flew out the car,” which is a real thing that happened two or three months ago. And one way you’re like, OK his dog passed and the other you’re like, Damn, what the fuck?.
One of those examples tells more of a story.
It’s just a different way of putting it. How you wanna re-tell it. I could be like, “When my dog died, I had to hope inside the Ghost.” Some shit like that where it’s like, it motivated me to go do this. The whole other route is explaining shit and how he flew out the car.
A negative to positive or all negative, etcetera.
You were saying you never really thought of rapping as a way to get rich. What did motivate you?
It was therapy to me.
Now that money is coming in, does that change anything?
Nah, not really ‘cause I was still getting money before I was rapping. It wasn’t a thing like, Oh, I gotta rap to get money. It was just...I wanna do what I wanna do. Let me see if I could do this. It was rough times, don’t get me wrong, where I was spending more money than was coming in. But we all got bad days and rough times, and you get through it.