richboynext.jpgFor somebody who never aspired to a career as a rap star, 24-year-old Rich Boy has settled into the role quite comfortably. After leaving Tuskegee University’s mechanical engineering program to pursue the beatmaking skills he’d learned from a fellow student there, the Alabama native found his calling on the microphone largely by chance. Four years ago, when Atlanta producer Polow Da Don was visiting a Mobile radio station with his since-defunct group Jim Crow, he heard a demo track Rich Boy had made—“Cold as Ice,” it was called—that featured some of the very first rhymes the newbie had ever laid to wax. The next thing you know, a deal with Interscope Records is on the table. Next thing after that, it’s 2006, and “Throw Some D’s,” an infectious celebration of double-size rims, is rattling chassis across the country.

These days, of course, a hit single doesn’t guarantee big album sales. Despite the success of “D’s”—and strong follow-up singles like “Boy Looka Here” and “Good Things”—Rich Boy’s self-titled debut album has scanned a respectable but somewhat underwhelming 350,000 units since its March release. Still, the realistic rookie remains relaxed. “I feel like the way numbers is doing right now, and the way the game is, I feel like I did outstanding,” he says, citing early work from today’s powerhouses like T.I. that failed to reach a wide audience. “Especially for my first album, because even all the bigger artists that’s bigger than me, on their first album, it didn’t do too good.”

Though he has no complaints about the push Interscope gave him (Rich Boy has spawned three singles, each with an accompanying video), he recognizes that superstars are rarely built by waiting on music executives to move. He’s decided to personally finance a video for an album cut called “Let’s Get This Paper”—a song that touches on everything from the war in Iraq to police brutality and the disproportionate rate of incarceration among Black males. “I feel like if it’s in my heart to put it out, I need to just do it, and it’s not a money issue. If this is my career, I can’t be worried about what I’ma spend.”

That may seem like an awfully noble sentiment coming from the “Throw Some D’s” guy. But if there’s one thing Rich Boy wants to make clear, it’s that he’s far from a gimmick rapper. He may have come to rhyming recently, but unlike many of his peers, who boast of their status as hustlers first and rappers second, Rich places artistic passion over money as his main motivation. “I feel like that’s what a lot of artists are missing, like that’s what we need to bring the game back to—making it an art form, where you do it from the heart.”

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