There are at most 10 people in the world who could successfully pull off the outfit that Riff Raff wears when he saunters into this Koreatown restaurant on a May afternoon. Even the professionally flamboyant Bishop Magic Don Juan would have to remove his top hat in tribute to the gummy worm–braided, snakeskin-shoed rapper.
When you bestow upon yourself the nickname Jody Highroller, you can’t show up in basketball shorts, unkempt hair and a cut-off tee. And if there’s anything we know for certain about Riff Raff, it’s that he doesn’t condone middle-of-the-mall shit.
His bespoke suit comes from Marc Jacobs; it’s got the animated glow of a psychedelic sunset, a Bellini or a Claude Monet masterpiece. The Laffy Taffy fluorescence is to be expected from a man whose latest alias is the Peach Panther, which doubles at the title of his latest album, released this week as part of a $4 million joint venture among his own Neon Nation imprint, Stampede Management and BMG.
“It feels like this is my first real project,” Riff Raff says, taking a bite of a pizza and offering slices to everyone around him.
He remains proud of his stellar debut, 2014’s Neon Icon, but laments that he never got to fulfill his original vision for the project: a video for each song. For Peach Panther, he’s upped the ante, shooting a promotional clip for each of the dozen tracks, culminating with a movie that he describes as an action/comedy/drama/thriller, inspired by James Bond, Indiana Jones, The Goonies, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and Miami Vice.
“I want to stay consistent and drop an album every year, so in the long run, you can see that I’m an actual artist,” the Houston native says. “Regardless of anything I say, some people try to take the fact that I’m an artist away from me.”
These are the pitfalls that occur when you have a sense of humor. Comedies never win best picture, nor do humorists receive the unqualified praise of the serious novelist. Until Jim Carrey made Man on the Moon and The Truman Show, few regarded him as a legitimate artist — even though Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber are masterpieces under any metric.
When Riff Raff first emerged about four years ago, the prevailing question surrounding him was: Is this a joke? The answer was both yes and no. Yes, Riff Raff boasted the whimsical imagination, social media savvy, lyrical flair and rap ability to will himself to stardom, but somewhere beneath the Versace veneer lay a deceptively complex human being who could write a song like “Time,” a poignant country-rap meditation on the hourglass cliché.
Riff Raff could freestyle better than almost anyone alive; he became the model for James Franco’s character in Spring Breakers. If nothing else, the latter contribution qualifies him in the canon of great American originals. If Riff Raff didn’t exist, not even Harmony Korine could have invented him.
“I know people get it, but there are those who want to say that just because I’m having fun or ‘funny’ that I’m not an artist,” Riff Raff adds. “That doesn’t make sense. Whenever Jamie Foxx was on In Living Color and then you saw him sing, it didn’t take away from either of those things. I can’t change everyone’s perception of me, but I can change the quality of the work — and this album and movie are of undeniable quality.”
It features guest verses from Danny Brown, Gucci Mane, G-Eazy and Lil Durk. There are tributes to the Bay Area and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
As he says himself, “There are a lot of party songs, and what’s wrong with a party?” It’s Riff Raff being Riff Raff — and not even the best James Franco impression can compete.
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.