Rich Boy shops at Macy's. All photos by the author.
Here’s a depressing thought: What if you pick a rap name, and one day it no longer applies to you? For example, let’s say your name is “Rich Boy,” but as the years drag on, time and circumstance wrests you from the status you once claimed. This is the unfortunate position in which Alabama’s Rich Boy, of “Throw Some D’s” and “Let’s Get This Paper” fame, has found himself. He is no longer particularly wealthy, he’s definitely no longer a “boy,” and he’s nearly a decade removed from his biggest hits. But he is forced to carry on, because in many ways, his name is all he has.
As tough as that sounds, Rich Boy plays it cool. And when I meet with him at the Beverly Center mall in Los Angeles on a recent Friday, it’s clear he is still a man of refined taste. Showing up in an Adidas track jacket, matching hi-top sneakers, and vintage Cazals, he promptly makes his way to the Foot Locker, where he spends several minutes studying a set of Nike sneakers and shirts.
“That look cool with that? Or is that a different color right there?” he asks me, holding up a LeBron James signature tee and comparing it with a pair of bright blue Kobe Mentality sneakers. “Yeah,” I say. “Looks good man!” But Rich Boy, with his discerning eye, is unconvinced. He summons a Foot Locker employee, who directs him to a shirt with a matching color scheme.
Rich Boy isn’t exactly a master poet, but poetry has never been his M.O. Though his rhymes mostly revolve around women, automobiles and dollar bills, he comes from a generation of rappers who communicate more with their voice than with their words. On “Throw Some D’s” he forged the ultimate anthem to upward mobility and hustler success, paying tribute to Cadillacs and Dayton rims over a sleek, soulful beat by Polow da Don, who produced the majority of his 2007 debut. The strength of the song comes largely from Rich Boy’s delivery—his blunted vowels and dense drawl exuding a potent, distinctly Southern swagger. Clearly he’s not a man to be trifled with on his home turf.
This many years into his career, though, I get the sense that Rich has mellowed a bit. At the mall, he speaks calmly and quietly, and makes clear that he’s more mindful of his financials now than he used to be.
“I wanna reach a certain mark in the bank before I start doing that again,” he says when I suggest we check out the Gucci store. “That way I can really enjoy it.”
Rich was once making big waves in the rap world. His self-titled debut album, released on Interscope/Zone 4 in 2007, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200; the next year, he appeared on the cover of XXL as a member of the hip-hop magazine’s inaugural Freshmen Ten list, appearing on its cover with such future luminaries as Lupe Fiasco, Jay Electronica, and Lil Boosie. Today it’s hard to find a rap fan who wouldn’t gladly throw some D’s on a lime-green Caddy. When we step into the Macy’s, even the security guards are stoked to see Rich.
“I remember sitting in my bedroom, watching him on 106 & Park—turn it up real loud,” one of the guards, a guy named Terry who’s toting a walkie-talkie and wearing a red windbreaker, tells me. “That’s a part of my childhood.”
Rich Boy with Macy's security
In recent years, though, Rich Boy has struggled to keep up the momentum of his early days. Things were going great for a while: In 2005 he had a feature on Ludacris’ Disturbing tha Peace, and two months before his studio debut he appeared on Drake’s second official mixtape. But after he dropped his debut and a handful of subsequent mixtapes, he ended up in the lurch at Interscope. He eventually left the label to join E1 Music, and it wasn’t until 2013 that he was finally able to release his full-length follow-up, Break the Pot. Alas, that album failed to score a hit single or get much attention outside of underground rap blogs. And by then he’d also weathered a financial setback, having been ordered by a judge in 2008 to pay over $300,000 to a tax accountant who said he was shot by Rich’s brother in Rich’s car in 2005.
Still, Rich has held strong, and now he’s eager to revamp his sound. Indeed, that’s what brings him to Los Angeles. He often comes to the city to meet up with his friend/collaborator Hit-Boy, producer of hits like Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Niggas In Paris” and Lil Wayne and Eminem’s “Drop the World” (Rich and Hit-Boy recently teamed up on a new track that also features R&B singer The-Dream). But this time Rich is here to go into the studio with Boombox Cartel, a plucky young EDM duo that specializes in bludgeoning trap beats, hip-hop vibes, crowd-pleasing remixes, and other fun festival fare.
“I feel like the future of music is a mixture of everything, like a melting pot,” Rich says. We’re sitting next to a Starbucks cart at the Beverly Center, waiting for the guys in Boombox Cartel to come back with drinks. “There are so many recipes you can come up with. I can fit country and rap, rap with electronic. I can put electronic with country. I can mix it up. I can go listen to some ancient Chinese music and mix it with something, and it’d be something we’d never heard of before.”
Indeed, just last month he dropped a new track on his Soundcloud page, “Paradise,” which mixes 808 snares with slick trance vibes in a way that resembles AraabMuzik’s lysergic beat album Electronic Dream. Rich Boy sounds fantastic on it, the delicate pianos lending a sense of gravitas to his pristine drawl. When he raps, "Hard times come, gotta make ya way / Bow my head every night and pray," you feel it in your gut.
“I produced that track myself,” says Rich, who made beats even before he rapped. “I always wanted to go in that direction. It’s just other people ain’t understand what I was trying to do. Sometimes you can be too far ahead of your game, and then you get lost.”
Rich Boy with Boombox Cartel
Boombox Cartel consists of two guys in their early 20s—Americo Garcia and Jorge Medina. They met while living in Monterrey, Mexico, and started the group after relocating to Minneapolis. They’re now based in L.A., and they got linked up with Rich after being referred to him by their manager.
“I grew up with this man’s music in high school,” Garcia says, gesturing at Rich while slurping on an iced caramel macchiato. “Down south in Texas [where I grew up], everyone was all, ‘Throw Some D’s!’ Every club was playing it. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, yeah Cadillacs man, just like Rich Boy said.’ Started a whole movement.”
That day they’d been in the duo’s North Hollywood home studio working on a new track, and now they’re at the mall so Rich Boy can pick out some clothes for a show they’re playing that night. The shopping expedition doesn’t last long; Rich finds everything he needs at the Foot Locker. After hitting some other shops, we split up and then I link up with them later that night at the cavernous Avalon nightclub in Hollywood.
The club’s just starting to fill up when the duo goes on at around 11 p.m. They play for 45 minutes, deploying trap beats, massive bass lines and one track whose snare drum pops like a champagne bottle. Then they welcome Rich onstage as a surprise guest. After warming up the crowd with “Throw Some D’s,” they unveil the new track, which opens as a slow EDM anthem but then spins around with a heavy beat and metallic, “Turn Down for What”-esque synths. With colorful strobes flashing, Rich summons the charm and confidence of his younger years, tearing off his shirt and spitting the line: “I take a dream and turn it into the real thing!”
Sure, it wasn’t the biggest show in Los Angeles that night; a much bigger audience was getting way more turnt-up at the sold-out RL Grime show at the Hollywood Palladium down the street. And it’s hard to say whether Rich’s embrace of EDM will reignite his fame. But it makes sense why he still calls himself Rich Boy. After all these years and all he’s been through, it’s clear he’s not at it for the promise of material gain. These days, it’s all about tapping into the wealth within.
“I want to have more experiences in life than the average man,” he tells me back at the mall, leaning in close and striking a pensive tone. “I always want to be expanding, experiencing something new. I think that’s what keeps me young.”
Peter Holslin is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.