Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

I took a wild ride with the man of the moment – the Neon Icon himself – Riff Raff, otherwise known as Jody Highroller, MTV Riff Raff and “Alien”, while he hits NYC for CMJ.

It’s mid-October in New York City, CMJ Music Marathon is under way and the buzz on the streets is all about a neon-crazed rapper from Houston, Texas better known as “Riff Raff”.  The cornrowed, tattooed caricature has gained more notoriety for his mad look and obsession with the fluorescent, than any of his songs in particular – such as “Versace Bentley”, and “Dolce & Gabbana”.  A walking billboard for American mass media, he has covered his body in logo tattoos – from the massive MTV logo on his neck to not-so-subtle nods to NBA, BET and Seagram’s Seven, as well as Bart Simpson emblazoned on his chest; there is no hiding his obsessive branding perversion. Comparisons to Vanilla Ice and other relics of 80’s glory are inevitable. It is widely believed James Franco’s character from Spring Breakers, Alien, is based on him, despite objections from the filmmakers

With so much hype surrounding the diamond and windbreaker-clad performer, Riff Raff was high on our list to interview during CMJ.  After locking in a one–on-one, it was with dismay that I answered a phone call telling me (surprise-surprise) that the rambunctious rapper wasn’t going to make the interview, as he was out late partying and overslept.  Instead, did I want to hang out with him all day and get my interview en route to various Manhattan destinations? It took a few minutes of debating before thinking, what the hell – it’s sure to be interesting to say the least… The so-called “mass-media mutation” has had sold out shows everywhere from the Highline Ballroom to Sydney Opera House, although he has not yet released a real album.  It is inevitable in the pop culture-obsessed ADD world we live in, someone like Riff Raff has become the ultimate antidote to boredom. I was curious to snag a look for myself at the emblem of egomania. If you haven’t heard of Riff Raff, strap yourself in for the ride.

Riff Raff rolled into the Rivington Hotel an hour or so later and let’s just say it would be impossible to ignore him.  The 6’ plus blond Texas tornado in cornrows was dressed head to toe in neon, sporting 80’s style shades that he designed himself, pink neon flip flops paired with blue leopard print socks, and was dripping in multi-colored oversized diamonds like no other I have seen before. Following in his footsteps was the usual entourage, including a nameless blonde water-holder. After hellos and high fives all around we headed up to the CMJ press lounge where the festival hosts were waiting to interview him. It didn’t matter if people had no idea who the hell he was – his entrance is so vivid, so gangsta neon bling – he gathers fans like honey gathers flies.  You could hear the CMJ crowd buzzing – “who is that guy…” “Oh yeah, isn’t he the one they based “Alien” on – he’s suing them or something right …” and they swarmed in just begging for photos and autographs.  Riff Raff has that effect, that “It” thing that only a select few can pull off, call it glamour, call it charisma, call it plain Over The Top… but for this flashy newcomer it works like a charm, and is walking him straight into the Hall of Fame.

Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

Meeting this vivid character, my first impression was that he’s fun, he has his own style, he’s got a look and a way about him, and you can see what all the hype is about… although it is equally clear Riff Raff has a long way to go before he breaks the mainstream as a “serious” artist – if that is even possible. Just don’t tell him that! His assumption is that everyone is down on who he is (or they just pretend they don’t know him), we are all devoted fans, and he’s on his way like an airplane to the top – his “destiny” of helicopters and waterslides is soon to come. Yes, there is an ever-growing exponential buzz, and the buzz is not just fluff. Despite years of no one taking him seriously, Riff Raff is finally hitting his stride. His Diplo-produced debut album, Neon Icon, comes out early next year on the Major Lazer-founder’s own label Mad Decent, and features some intense collaborations with the likes of A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Mike Posner and Asher Roth. This combined with his unashamed, in-your-face attitude has propelled him into the spotlight, with headlining shows, back-to-back interviews, cover stories and his own clothing line in the works.

It is hard to tell if Riff Raff is serious – or if his entire identity is a sick joke on the world, which it most likely is. Despite the gags, the logos, the intense personality, he reveals a subtle bitterness that it has taken so long to work his way up the ladder of glory, that we should have all recognized him long ago for the supreme being, A-Lister, that he is. His entire persona comes off as fabricated as the latest doppelganger “Alien” (Riff Raff?) Halloween costumes that have become a top seller this year.  Yet Riff Raff seems to be 100% serious when he says, “I need a private island, a jet airplane…I need to be on tour with Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and Drake, I need that, y’know what I mean?”

After the 15-minute rooftop video interview with CMJ and a whole lotta hype, photos and autographs, we jumped into the SUV heading uptown for a taping with BET. I was able to get more than a few questions in en route – although he was clearly distracted, by the Lobster Hut, by his water-holding 20-something hottie sitting on his right, by his diamonds and his own alter ego, which kept getting in the way of a serious conversation.  But who was I to think I would actually get a serious interview with the “Neon Icon”?  I should have known better!  What was expected to be a quick jaunt uptown to the network became the never-ending drive, where I started to question my sanity jumping on the Riff Raff bandwagon.

Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

Indira Cesarine: How do you feel, you obviously woke up really late and…

RR: Yeah, I work good under pressure… I can do like ten interviews in a day, it’s fine. But the thing is, it just takes me a little while to get up sometimes… I’m a game time player so this stuff’s whatever.

IC: Yeah! We’re all good. So, what’s the story with your name, “Riff Raff”?

RR: It came from an old folklore source, who came down from the mountains of Belgium, yeah and he was like, “Hey, your name’s Riff Raff.” It just started traveling across the planets then my name got so famous that I had to switch to Jody Highroller, so now I’m just Jody Highroller.

IC: “Jody Highroller.” OK, cool. So, tell me about all these tattoos…

RR: You don’t know about me.

IC: I do know about you.

RR: Then you would have known about Jody.

IC: I don’t know everything about you, no. That’s why I’m interviewing you, because I don’t know everything about you. Is that all right?

RR: Hmmmm. OK. You seem nice and you’re a girl so I’ll…

IC: You’ll put up with it?

RR: I’ll cut you some slack… because I’m going to be on the cover.

IC: A cover, of something

RR: Yeah, ‘cuz I love it so much.

IC: Tell me about Jody Highroller.

RR: You tell me about him… A name is a name. There’s other people who speak other languages who might say my name in a different language, then does that mean something different or same same? Words are words, like, y’know.

Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

IC: So, what was it like growing up in Texas?

RR: What was it like growing up in Texas? I grew up like, everywhere in the world really.

IC: But you’re from Texas right?

RR: I was born in Texas yes.

IC: So tell me about your new album, you have Neon Icon coming out January.

RR: Excited. First big, major worldwide project… I’ve never dropped an album, I’m a rookie. In January, I’ll be a rookie.

IC: You’ve had a lot of songs out though.

RR: I’ve had a lot of songs out, yeah that’s how I practice. It’s all like pre-season games, when you drop the album that’s like first day one, I haven’t got to drop an album ever in my life. I’ve had albums that I put out myself, I’ve never had my CD in Best Buy, in Walmart, in Target, you know what I mean? So until that happens then you’re a rookie still, until that happens… It’s introducing myself to the world.

IC: So what’s up with all the neon?

RR: I’m just fascinated by bright colors so I just, I don’t know, I just live off vibes of stuff. Some people live off social values, like, “Oh, that’s that and this is this. This makes money so I’m-a do that and this does that.” I live off like, vibe, so neon colors make me feel comfortable.

IC: And the tattoos, do they have any particular meaning?

RR: I mean, each one is pretty much kinda like, self-explanatory but…

IC: You have a lot of logos tattooed though, what’s that all about?

RR: Apparently I liked that logo at that certain time, I held a certain feeling for it at that certain time. It’s like a… what’s it called? Milestone. Like, a timeline.

IC: So, your new album, tell me some of the songs? I saw your “Dolce & Gabbana” music video, is that on the new album?

RR: That’s a new song, but it’s not on the new album. That was kind of like a, hmmm how to put it? Like a scrimmage game. It got a million-something views in a couple of weeks… I’ll drop these other little random videos but when I wanna step it up and do a real video and have a song then I can do that. So, that was just kind of like a, you know what I mean, an appetizer… I don’t want that to be a reflection of the Neon Icon album, it’s not like all songs are gonna be like that, we just threw that out there…

IC: How do you come up with your songs?

RR: Pretty much just [snaps], like that. After like, the beat first, that’s first. And then I’ll just come up with the song.

IC: Who are you working with on the new album?

RR: Some of the names that’s on there’s gonna be Action Bronson, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Mike Posner, Asher Roth; a lot o’ white people.

IC: You are also working with A$AP Rocky right?

RR: A$AP, yeah he’s a friend of mine. Yeah, in the future I mean, almost every artist that’s a major artist, like we’ve had discussions of things that we’re gonna do in the near future but… My stock? The way I see shit? Like my stock is high right now, but at the same time I’ve never dropped an album… So I’d be selling myself short if I went on a tour with like a bigger name and I was opening… The way I see it, I know what I’m about to do and I know what things are going to happen and people don’t see that. So it’s better to show people first. I’ll just wait, I’ll drop this album and you’ll see like a whole new situation within like, I think by next summer, like June… it’ll be full swing where like, people worldwide will see like, how big of a icon I am. Yeah, it’s more of not me showing or proving something to anybody… it’s more of it coming to light, like people saying like, “Oh, I didn’t know he had all these hit songs,” and “I didn’t know this worldwide album was just so great!” Yeah and whether somebody likes it or not, it’s going to be inevitable; they can’t just hide me any more. People tried to hide me for a long time!

IC: I heard that you had something going on with the movie Spring Breakers. Do you think the character Alien was based on you?

RR: Oh I had “something going on” with that movie? What made you say that? What made you say that when I just said that people tried to hide me and then you immediately jump to that? You don’t even know anything about me but you know about that? Everyone pretty much knows that. Now, people who don’t like me, they’re gonna be like, “Naaahh, da-da-da-da-da.” But the people who know the facts, just have a look at the facts, like, if you look at it, one plus one equals two… I know Harmony. If you knew anything about me, we have videos of us playing basketball, we were on the cover of a magazine together… I mean I’ve talked about it so many times it’s… me talking isn’t gonna… That’s not the way I want things to go, me talking about it…

IC: So, tell me about some of your songs on your new album…

RR: We have like fifty songs and we’re narrowing them down to get the best songs, I don’t want them letting me listen to the songs until they’re finished. So I mean, I have some pretty big features on there but besides that it’s just the quality of the songs. Like, I’ve never had a mixed or mastered song, I’ve never been in this position.

IC: And previously, how did you put out your music?

RR: Ohhh, the Lobster Shack…Sorry, I got sidetracked by the Lobster Shack. Wait, where’s my phone? Oh, I got it. I gotta tweet that I got sidetracked by the Lobster Shack. Let me say that right there. OK, go ahead, what?

IC: It’s OK. So, how did you put out your early stuff? I know you did a lot of videos and you posted on YouTube to put out your work. This is your first studio album, so previous to that how did you get your music out there?

RR: Previously I would just um, I don’t know, just do freestyle and stuff.

IC: Do you prefer performing or doing studio work?

RR: I don’t like going to the studio, I like performing. I mean performance, yeah, yeah, I like performing, yeah. At big venues, big venues with good sound systems.

IC: Is there a recent performance that stands out?

RR: Oh, so many… A couple of memorable ones that I really think about was the New York one at the Highline Ballroom? Like every magazine was there, Billboard, everybody. It was crazy, it was sold out, it was packed, it was a really, kind of like a… eye-opening moment for me. I already knew what type of stuff would happen but it was really… the stage and it just had a good feel to it, everybody was really having fun, so. And it was right around the time when there was a lot o’ people talking about this and that and, “Is he this?” and, “Is he that?” blah, blah, blah and then like, I sold out the whole show and all the magazines were there and it was great. It was like a “fuck you” to the haters… Then I brought out Action Bronson and got a standing ovation.

Oh yeah and then I was in Australia and I sold out the Sydney Opera House… To be in Australia without an album out and then to sell out Sydney Opera House, I mean that was another moment where I was like, on the stage where I was like, damn. I was like, “This is cool.” It was fun. Like, stuff like that is fun.

IC: What’s this other group you’ve been working with  – Simon Rex and Three Loco?

RR: Yeah, we have a TV show coming out, those are my friends… Can’t really talk too much about it, but yeah like, Three Loco we do music together, we just have fun, you know what I mean? I think my songs, I try to be a little more structured, like for radio and stuff. With them, its just like we get in and we just have fun. So it’s like two different sides… we’re just hanging out, y’know with our friends, there’s none of that pressure and stress and all that…we just have fun. I’m the little, I don’t know, habitually late all the time, it’s not on purpose though it’s just it take me a little while to get ready ‘cuz I’m not like an average artist who just rolls outta bed and just like, “Hey! What’s up, I’m here to do music.” I’m like, nah, I gotta get like… [gestures to hair and beard].

IC: Do you do that yourself, your beard? Or do you have a barber that comes in every day?

RR: No, I have a barber who travels with me. Yeah, like she shaves, like, my beard every day and braids my hair.

IC: When did you start wearing braids?

RR: I don’t know, about ten, fifteen years ago, I don’t know… Me with long hair, I can do whatever I want. I could get curls or I could be this or it could be… it’s just real versatile, I can switch it up or however y’all wanna do it, y’know?

Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

IC: And are there any designers you like to wear?

RR: Hmmm. I can’t say there’s in particular because it’s like… hmmm, I’m not gonna say, I mean, Neff, I have like a whole line of clothes coming out with them.

IC: That’s amazing. And what’s it going to be like?

RR: Just, whatever I want, like windbreakers, like see these outfits?

IC: And where do you get the glasses, who are these ones by?

RR: See, you don’t know a thing about me, these are my glasses… These are the Neff ones!

IC: Oh, these are the Neff ones you were telling me about? This is your clothing line? And this is all your own line?

RR: Well, no this isn’t, but this is.

IC: Yeah, that’s what I thought. So I’m expected to know, like every item of clothing you have, which ones that you designed or somebody else designed it?

RR: No, it’s just the true fans know, hmmmmm?

IC: Oh, OK. Alright, I’m busted, I’m totally busted. I don’t know every item of clothing you have on and who designed it – It’s all new discovery. Who is your jewelry by? Is that your collection too?

RR: Oh, this is a custom made watch, from Johnny. It’s dolphin diamonds. Yeah, this was given to me, the Egyptian pharaoh King Tut gave it to me. Yeah, and this was in a treasure ship downstairs at the bottom of the ocean… I actually won this in the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle.

IC: You’re really into cartoon characters I heard?

RR: Oh you heard?

IC: Yeah, I did hear that, and that you have a Bart Simpson tattoo.

RR: Who told you this? These things are so absurd!

IC: Well, you know, somebody on the grapevine told me you have a Bart Simpson tattoo. Is that true?

RR: I tell you what. If you don’t know that I have a Bart Simpson tattoo…

IC: Can I see it?

RR: Only because I want to be on the cover. [Sings] BAAART SIMPSON! Dee-dee-dee…

IC: So why did you get that?

RR: Honestly, I don’t even remember what I ate yesterday, so to bring me to why I did something I mean it’s kinda like whaaaaaat? Like heeelloooo…

IC: So do you have a girlfriend?

RR: [Sings] Those are… unnecessary questions. No, I don’t. Never been married, never had any kids… Oh! I do have a kid. His name’s Jody Husky the Neon Puppy.

IC:  Are you excited about the CMJ performance tonight? Do you know what you’re going to sing?

RR: Oh! I forgot I had a show tonight. That should be good fun.

IC: Do you plan your performances?

RR: Just kinda go with the flow with it.

IC: You just decide when you get onstage what you’re going to perform?

RR: Exactly….

Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

IC: Who are your musical inspirations? When you were younger, who did you like to listen to?

RR: Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Madonna, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, who else? Damn, there’s somebody else. Yeah, that’s about it.

IC: What about now? If you were going to put something on now, that’s not your music, what would you listen to?

RR: Oh yeah, Fitz, Fitz and Tantrums, is that what it’s called? Fitz and the Tantrums, Lady Gaga … I don’t know, who? Red Hot Chili Peppers, alright. Damn…

IC: I would think you get asked this question all the time.

RR: I do! And I always forget who I… I just listen to the radio. There’s not somebody I specifically listen to, I just always listen for good music.

IC: Are there any musicians that you would want to work with?

RR: Yeah. Uh-huh. Everybody. [Sings] Ev-ery-body, boom-boom, boom-boom-click.

IC: So where are you going from here, what is your plan after CMJ?

RR: [Taps rhythm] Might go to Chicago, might go to Toronto, might go to Florida, might go to Beverly Hills, might go to Japan, might go to Sudan, might go to Iran, might… might go to Alaska and get a tan…

IC: Are you going to plan a world tour after the album drops?

RR: Every city. I want to travel the world. I want to do something like Italy or Taj Mahal, or like Egypt and stuff like that; I want to do big shows. Sweden, Scotland, Iceland, Greenland, all that… Yeah, I want to do stuff like the big, big thing in Dubai.

IC: So how long have you been performing for?

RR: Um, like, less than a year…. I’m just a little baby about to be not a little baby any more.

IC: And so the egg cracked open and you climbed your way out a year ago, what were you doing before that?

RR: I used to own a snow cone factory. I still sell snow cones but…

IC: I don’t know what to say to that one!

RR: I don’t know what to say period.

IC: That’s ok, you can say whatever you want! Because as far as I’m concerned the more crazy it is, the more interesting it is for us. So if you want to say you owned a snow cone factory, I’m sure everyone will love that.

RR: And the building was made of ice cream cones and screws…

Riff Raff by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

We finally arrived at BET and headed upstairs for the video interview. It was a relief to get out of the car and let someone else take the baton for a while. I listened in on the taping, where Riff Raff, otherwise known as “Jody Highroller”, “the Rice Emperor”, “the White Gucci Mane”, the “rap game Travis Tritt”, told us about his work in progress and his foreseen destiny, “So this is a big moment for me; an album in worldwide stores everywhere, I always dreamed about this stuff… It’s game time… I’m focused on the top, y’know what I mean? I’m looking right here at my destiny, right here, at all this stuff that I want… I want an island, I want to be buying things and shopping and having fun and just a luxury lifestyle, where I own an island, y’know what I mean? Like, private jets and helicopters and water slides in my house and horchata machines in the living room and trampolines surrounding a pool, like, I just have these ideas in my head that I can accomplish… I want to keep going up to my destiny, y’know, so in twenty years like… I want, want, want, want, want, I need this, I need this, I need lobster, I need to fly in this first class plane, I need all these things. I need the best stylists, I need the best sound system when I’m on stage, you know what I mean? I need to be on tour with Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and Drake, I need that, y’know what I mean?… You’ve got to focus on your destiny, what do you want?”

After the interview wrapped (and a undercurrent of disappointment that BET were only airing it online) we headed down to the next taping at Chelsea Piers for Fox Sports. Every moment is  entertaining with this rowdy Texan, I got the privilege to hear one of Riff Raff’s greatest hits blasted all the way downtown while sitting next to the Neon Icon… and it went something like this:

Yeah plea and a cue / I’m not you / Walk inside a room / nice shoes / nice crew / visit Eddy and the candy fry

can stripe / Bruce Wayne / Candy Cane / The first time I reign with the mads a chain / rockin’ past your wedding rockin’ wedding rings / frame it and the worst is it might rain

30k across my heart / chest pain

freeze brain / freeze through the window pane / embraced by Versace while my body rock /

my body rock / who be rock / wrists like Rocky Balboa / hands outside like the North Pole / your girlfriend lives her life on a stripper pole /

your girlfriend lives her life on a stripper pole / damn

switch my whole jewelry game to rose gold / stripper pole / rose gold / stripper pole /

Stripper pole / stripper pole
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper pole / stripper stripper /
Pole / pole /pole / pole / pole / pole

– Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

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