Rich Boy: American Dreamin’
While working on his sophomore album, this Alabama MC phoned in to discuss Mardi Gras, Soulja Boy and his state’s rich Civil Rights legacy.
When Mobile, Alabama rapper Rich Boy dropped “Throw Some D’s” at the end of 2006, he proved an unknown artist from a small city in the Deep South could bring hip-hop down to his level. But when his self-titled debut dropped in March of 2007, a complex rapper who could shift from the pimped-out (“Good Things”) to the political (“Let’s Get This Paper”) emerged over Polow Da Don’s spastic musical directives. Looking towards the future, Rich Boy is currently recording his sophomore album (tentatively titled Buried Alive), which he promises will include more variety and the kind of political voice that only an artist from the state where Dr. Martin Luther King led the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott could produce. Who knows—maybe if the good doctor had never been assassinated, today he would be waving to the people, throwing out moon pies at Mobile’s traditional Mardi Gras parade.
How did growing up in Alabama, a state embedded with a history of Civil Rights struggle, shape you as a person?
Coming from where I come from, it just made you go harder when it come to anything that had to do with racism. You gotta push extra hard because of who you are. It’s crazy because every Martin Luther King Ave is a poor street and it’s always in the hood. My granddaddy went through all that crazy shit down here. You learn to deal with it and adapt and it actually makes you a stronger person.
Since entering the music business, have you seen more racism in the industry or at home?
The industry is more about that green. It ain’t black and white, it’s all about the dollar. But it’s a difference between when a black person drop a album and a white one, ’cause they somehow go platinum more times. It’s gonna be a long time ‘til we do away with racism though. It ain’t the same like back then. They smart now. They wear suits now, so it’s a tricky situation. You just gotta be able to spot it. They don’t wear all white sheets no more. It’s like they undercover police.
On “Let’s Get This Paper,” from your last album, you made some of the most poignant socio-economic statements of any artist last year. What made you write that song?
That was the biggest song to me—my personal best. That’s what I really represent as an artist. That came from the heart. It ain’t take no time to write that. I wanted my whole album to be like that, but that just happened to be the one song to make the final cut. I ain’t have that much control over that. I want to talk about real situations. Everybody ain’t got money. It’s more people that’s poor than rich. I wanna have that real connection with the fans, not just have them dig in they pockets to buy my CD. I wanna help a person make it through the day.
Who had the control over what types of songs made the cut? Where was the pressure coming from?
Coming from the top, I guess. Me and Polow did a lot of them songs. I know for a fact, though, I’ma have a lot more songs like that on the next one. I got this [remix] with Nas, Lil’ Wayne and John Legend I just did [for] “Ghetto Rich.” It’s about real struggle, racial profiling, police brutality and all that. I wanna do hit records and fun records too, but I wanna do the others too.
Does the Civil Rights legacy of Alabama influence your music?
It most definitely got an affect on my music. When you hear something like “Let’s Get This Paper” and “Ghetto Rich,” you can feel it. I try to be more motivational when talking about negative situations.
Have you experienced much racism personally, both before and since you became a rapper?
Hell yeah. First time I went to jail, I went to jail for being black in the wrong store. I had a pocket full of money, but the police just wanted to fuck with me. We did what he told us to do, we wasn’t loud or nothing. It just wasn’t his day so I ended up going to jail at 18. I got charged with disorderly conduct, just the most convenient thing for them. They was white police. Since I been rappin’, it’s been black police fucking with me, just outta jealousy. They be the worst ones, really. I was with a whole bunch of girls and had a soda in my hand. This black cop was like, “I don’t give a fuck who you is.” He made me poor my soda out, just to fuck with me.
A lot of people still don’t know your hometown Mobile has the original Mardi Gras in the United States – older than New Orleans. After spotlighting the celebration in the “Boy Looka Here” video last year, do you expect more out of towners this year?
A lotta people been askin’ me about it and say they tryna to come down, so we feel it’s gonna be really big this year. They surprised we have something that big in a city so small. New Orleans’ Mardi Gras is more caucasian. Ours is more like all the hoods comin’ together. It’s all mixed together—real good blend. We be out cookin’ in the streets We have all the black [marching] bands come down. All the people love it. It’s just real entertainment, a real moment. You gotta be there to catch it; you gotta smell all the food and all of that. We got the moon pies—that’s the signature thing they throw off the float. They throw moon pies right at the people. You ’posed to catch it, but people be drunk just throwin’ it hard as they can. The cars look just like the floats. You gonna see some things you agree with, and things you don’t agree with. It’s real colorful.
Mobile’s Mardi Gras also has a unique culture of secret social clubs who coronate the festivities, right?
Yeah, they have different balls, like the Kappas might have a ball. And they got different social clubs with different floats. You got your Mardi Gras king and queen. I ain’t never been Mardi Gras king. I think you gotta be part of them clubs, but I ain’t never been in one. Different businesses got social clubs for networking, or it get passed down generations through families.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about Alabama and Southern hip-hop in general?
I feel like, we do a lot of party records and some people be real ignorant, but we know just as much as people from other areas. That’s just what we do – it’s more a feeling when we in the booth than trying to get some point across. I feel like, that ain’t all we know how to do, but that’s all we showing. But we got people like OutKast, T.I., Lil’ Wayne, Scarface, who go in the booth and really get a point across. That’s the real hip-hop part of the South. A lot of other people just do the party records, ‘cause that’s what they think gonna sell. That’s how they gonna get out the hood. It turn into a green game, but that’s the problem. Once people start loving it again, they gonna do it whether they got a check or not. We gotta make the people love it—like really love it. Even the R&B game ain’t the same no more. They ain’t singin’ with soul no more like Curtis Mayfield and Al Green and ‘em—and they did a whole song all on one take, one reel. Wasn’t no editing.
The party records get a lot of spins, but it seems like they don’t move albums. On the other hand, OutKast and Wayne do sell albums. If it’s about money, why do you think people aren’t making albums as deep as those artists?
First of all, they don’t know the truth about the game. They see us on TV with cars and all these pretty girls and shit, and they think that’s all it is. So they say, “If we get this one hit, we on.” But you only get one hit, you really in trouble, ’cause you gotta pay all that back. People who do all the party music, they don’t study Soundscan and all that. They just want a hit, but a hit don’t do shit. A deal ain’t shit. A deal don’t mean nothing. It just mean they passin’ you the ball. Now you gotta make the shots to win. But a lotta of these people ain’t making the shots. They makin’ just one shot, and that don’t win the game.
So how do you feel about Soulja Boy taking the hook from “Throw Some D’s” for a song that doesn’t exactly encourage academic achievement?
I think he just young and having fun with it. When you at that age, you do what’s fun. I don’t think nobody want no Ds on they report card, though. But I ain’t taking that serious ’cause he like ten times younger than me. I just let him do his thing. Hopefully he’ll mature and just get bigger and better.