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Riff Raff: Rap Game Same as It Ever Was

Riff Raff changed the music internet universe in his image. What comes next is sure to be even more inexplicable.

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I am outside of my car for less than a minute before a 5 foot 2 teenage girl in gold lamé pants and a Cosby sweater asks if I’m “into psychedelics.” 90 seconds later, when I enter the Rave—a nuthouse-looking performance hall not far from where Jeffrey Dahmer lived in Milwaukee—I come face to face with what Thinkpieces have told me is the “EDM scene,” which from what I can tell is code for teenagers wearing wind jackets and having “distinct” haircuts. But I’m not here to poke fun at kids trying illict substances for the first (or four hundredth time). However, I will say that when I was leaving, I walked past an adolescent who had somehow lost all of his clothes, and who was standing near the exit stark naked, penis in hand, save for his socks and shoes. Instead, I am here to write about Riff Raff.


18 months ago, Riff Raff was still in that Internet gray area of being “a performance artist” and being downright inexplicable to people who were unaware of him. Given Drew Millard’s report of him seemingly lipsyncing an entire concert, I was prepared for a Riff Raff concert to be a weird, possibly horrible experience. So imagine my surprise when Riff Raff took the stage and…delivered a totally coherent set, a Greatest Hits concert that left little room for his underlying zaniness. He didn’t lipsync—he rapped along to every song--and he didn’t even dress as wild as the kid I saw who snuck a pocket full of rice into the venue to throw into the crowd during “Rice Out.”

Riff Raff, through sheer persistence, through comfortable familiarity, and through his ceaseless Vine account, has bent the world, or at least convinced a decent sized corner of the internet to accept him. And in turn, Riff Raff has done the unbelievable: He’s no longer an enigma or a “performance artist” or the weirdest guy on the Internet. He’s just another touring musician, a guy commodifying his Internet celebrity into something resembling a career. He’s the kind of guy who can get 500 Milwaukee #teens to turn up for him on the Friday before Christmas. He’s no different than Toro y Moi at this point, really.

Assuming his tweets are to be believed and production schedules hold, on January 28, after close to two years of delays and updates, and after more non sequiturs than Wiley Miller, Riff Raff will release his debut LP, NEON iCON. Of course the idea of a “debut” in the age of the Datpiff mixtape is a stretch—Riff Raff has released over 10 projects, including a CD-R on-demand album at Amazon called Golden Alien—but the fact remains: Riff Raff will finally move from being a web curio to being someone who has an album on store shelves, released by Mad Decent.


However, the reaction to an imminent Riff Raff studio album in late 2013/early 2014 is considerably more muted compared to what it would have been in the summer of 2012. Riff Raff is undoubtedly more popular than he was when he was just a rap Internet celebrity—part of that is Spring Breakers, another part of that is him being openly embraced by every 19-year-old with a Vine account—but he has lost all of his ability to surprise. His singles and guest verses used to be greeted with guffaws and question marks, and now tracks like “Dolce and Gabbana” and “How to Be The Man” are just part of the neverending stream of music blog content. They always were, of course, but it wasn’t until recently that Riff Raff went from being the Lunatic Fringe to being nearer to the middle of the culture. He’s bigger than the “is he for real?” gulags that have been constructed for Turquoise Jeep, Krispy Kreme, and Yung Lean, so his motives aren’t as much in question as they were in 2012 anymore, which in the end, is probably a positive.

A big part of his normalisation into internet culture in the last year has been due to the façade around his carefully cultivated persona collapsing as he was less able to deflect journalists’ advances while also pushing for never-ceasing media coverage. The blog Phat Friend had a multiple part series of stories of people hooking up with him, but the L.A. Weekly cover storyon him was the biggest look behind the curtain moment for him yet. The story revealed that, despite all indications, he wasn’t weaned on the Internet, codeine, DJ Screw and glowsticks. Riff Raff is Horst Simco, a guy who loved Vanilla Ice while growing up in Texas suburbs. He’s not an art student making some statement, and he’s not a (legitimately) crazy person. He’s just a weird kid who willed himself to stardom.


When he first hit the hype beast, Riff Raff played on the sideshow desires buried deep within every music Internet consumer. We’re assaulted with more entertainment options than we can possibly enjoy, and like our ancestors who lined up to see bearded women and guys with flippers for hands, the “weird” wins out eventually. But the thing about being “weird” on the Internet, is that if you stay around long enough, your specific brand of weird can become accepted. It’s why Bronies can get a heartfelt documentary made about them, it’s why @Dril is one of the most popular people on Twitter, it’s why a 6-hour mixtape by Lil B just gets posted on Pitchfork with hardly any commentary because no one needs to explain why Lil B has a mixtape that long.

Enigma no longer, the technicolored Riff Raff is the first performer who accurately reflected what it’s like to invent a social media self. With his absurd Vines, his cryptic in-joke tweets and his ridiculous spot-the-reference Wikipedia raps, Horst Simco morphed himself into what he always dreamed he could be: a rapper. His public persona is just like our Twitter accounts; a public reimagining of his persona and personality in real time. He is a walking hashtag joke, he’s a breathing Snapchat, he’s the rap game Tinder troll. In that regard, he might be the most of this time artist working right now.

Douglas Adams once wrote, “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” NEON iCON comes out at a weird juncture for Riff Raff: He’s never going to be the next Drake (who’s rumored to be on NEON iCON), but he’s already surpassed any fame you could have imagined for a guy who has a Siberian husky that plays an important part in his public persona. I could be wrong, and NEON iCON might be a stone cold classic, but it’s likely going to be boilerplate Riff Raff, a maelstrom of NBA Jam playerreferences sparse dance beats, and references to non-official Versace items. But that’s beside the point, really. Riff Raff changed the music internet universe in his image. What comes next is sure to be even more inexplicable.

Follow Andrew on Twitter: @thestorfer

Follow Noisey on Twitter: @Noisey_Nordics