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Is Riff Raff Serious? 

One thing's for certain: This maddeningly inscrutable white rapper is more entertaining than you are

Thursday, May 24 2012
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Visualize Riff Raff. His hair is a crop circle of braids. His eyes are blue, dilated and deserted. Gold grills glint on his teeth. A boy band–thin beard zigzags across his face. His chest and neck double as a tattooed billboard for MTV, BET, the NBA, Bart Simpson and Seagram's Seven.

To complete the look, the Hollywood-based, 26-year-old white rapper wears a cherry-red, ruby-laced Icee chain around his neck (as in, the frozen drink). That's when he's not rocking the chain purchased by his label patron, Diplo, the Grammy-nominated DJ-producer and BlackBerry ambassador. Or the gilded and emerald-green chain that Soulja Boy bestowed upon him last year during Riff Raff's brief stint on the Atlanta swag rapper's imprint.

Born Jody Christian, Riff Raff was raised on Houston's racially diverse north side and possesses an accent so thick it seems clogged by codeine — more working-class twang than imitated patois. To get a sense of the surreal, alternate universe he inhabits, start with his (most likely intentionally) hilarious 2010 video, "RiFF RAFF SODMG iN BRAZiL BAD BiTCH STRiPPER," where he describes his preferred marinade: "You know I stay with some seasoning sauce. Seasoning sauce been staying on deck, staying on top of pork chops. We're in East Brasilia ... just got a brand-new fly swatter from East Japan." To say he works in non sequiturs is an understatement.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES - Riff Raff
  • PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
  • Riff Raff

Riff Raff is the logical spawn of white Texas rapper Paul Wall but with a better sense of humor. Describing him in print is like trying to race piranhas on dry land. His bowl is the Internet, specifically YouTube, where his videos regularly register hundreds of thousands of views.

He can be both ingenious and minstrel, sometimes in the same song. He is a caricature of a caricature, Jamie Kennedy's Malibu's Most Wanted buffoon blown up to such animated extremes that he is wholly unique — an eccentric worthy of a Hollywood Hills Mount Rushmore alongside Angelyne, the Bishop Magic Don Juan and a post–Blizzard of Ozz Ozzy Osbourne.

"What separates him is his sense of humor. He's like Biz Markie in his goofiness or Kool Keith in the way he puts words together," says his friend and collaborator Simon Rex, who raps as the sex-obsessed Dirt Nasty. "It might not make sense on paper, but it works because he commits so much to them. He also has an Eazy-E octave that really punches through beats. So much rap is middle of the road; not enough people are having fun. He's not afraid to be a clown, and he can actually rap and carry notes. Put a camera on him and you can't look away. When he wakes up in the morning to when he goes to bed at night, that's him."

"People are desensitized to the point where nothing is special," Riff Raff himself puts in, during a rare moment of self-reflection. "People are getting bored. It's so saturated that if you're not in your own lane, you aren't needed."

His lane is as a rap avatar for the Adult Swim generation, full of stoned musings, pop culture detritus and cartoon tomfoolery. Riff Raff aliases include Jody Highroller, the Rice Emperor, the White Gucci Mane, the rap game Travis Tritt and the rap game Jonathan Taylor Thomas. He started calling himself "the rap game James Franco" after photos emerged from Spring Breakers, an upcoming Harmony Korine film in which the 127 Hours star plays a Riff Raff doppelgänger. Riff Raff claims Korine offered him the role, but he was "out of the country" at the time.

Weird as it seems, Riff Raff's rise is real. Over the last two months, he has signed to Diplo's label, Mad Decent, doubled his Twitter followers to 175,000-plus and signed to the management firm of industry power player Dante Ross. Though Riff Raff has a few slapped-together albums available for sale on iTunes, his still-unscheduled, Diplo-produced album figures to be his official introduction to whatever passes for the mainstream these days.

"He doesn't give a fuck about anything, which is my philosophy about everything. He's the best dude to drink with ever, and he can freestyle for seven weeks straight," Diplo says.

Last month, Village Voice hailed him as a "really good rapper," "shameless biter" and "brazen troll." The same piece compared him to Berkeley zeitgeist-surfing MC Lil B and claimed, "There's no right answer to whether or not they both are geniuses, idiots, lunatics, boring attention-seekers or a plot point somewhere on that matrix."

Fittingly, Lil B and Riff Raff collaborated on a song called "Borrow Your Daughter." Its video features their disembodied heads shrouded in Arabian veils and, alternately, their faces superimposed onto crabs scuttling across a turquoise coastline.

This obliteration of the line between irony and inanity has understandably elicited plenty of animosity. When Riff Raff was booked to perform at vaunted L.A. beat haven Low End Theory in December, online response alternated between extremes of hate and hospitality. At the show, half the crowd crossed its arms, bored and unimpressed. The other half rapped along to every word and jubilantly flung rice into the air.

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