In the World Star Hip Hop realm, viral rappers seem to appear out of nowhere, make a couple songs that get a million reblogs on Tumblr, and then disappear into mild obscurity just as quickly as they appeared. On paper, there is no real reason why Riff Raff (commonly stylized as RiFF RaFF) or the self-referred "Rap Game Bon Jovi," should have taken that path. While stylistically similar artists Lil B and Das Racist seem to be toggling the line between sincerity and ironic absurdity of hip hop ignorance, Riff Raff is genuine in crossing the line between tastelessness and pop culture perfection. The most conflicting part is that, unlike his genre-bending contemporaries, he insists on being taken seriously.
That’s a lot to ask for a man whose first brush with fame was an appearance on the MTV reality show From G’s To Gents in 2009—a show based on the conceit that you can turn a gangster into a gentleman—where he was eliminated because the show's host felt he was "beyond help." It was not a completely useless experience as it gave him exposure as a rapper. Soon after, he was signed to Soulja Boy’s SODMG imprint, later followed by an eight-album deal with Diplo’s Mad Decent.
The little information that is known about his past just adds to his pop culture aura. His father is a Vietnam veteran who suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he grew up with his mother in Houston after his parents divorced, also spending time in Brazil, Florida, and Arizona. The closest his lyrics get to personal are in “Orion’s Belt” where he raps, “When it comes to hateful words, I got skin like a rhinoceros / Diamonds on my binder, fourth grade I was immaculate.” His lyrics are almost all free-styled, and they consist mostly of references and impressive nonsensical wordplay, reinforced with an amazingly confident flow. The furthest lyrics from personal, and closest to absolutely ridiculous, are in “Spandex” —“(Spandex), I pull up with a lamb text / Too strudel, toaster strudel, ballin' on you poodles / Swish! Two cougars, 40 plus, clutching Rugers." His Internet relevance is probably rooted in the fact that his songs, released by labels or independently, are actually very good. The aforementioned “Orion’s Belt” and “Lil Mama I’m Sorry” are delivered so earnestly that it’s impossible to write them off as just a joke, like most listeners probably do.
The only hint of credibility in his career is thanks to controversial (not a term used lightly) filmmaker Harmony Korine, known for harvesting careers for Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny in 1995's Kids. He intended on casting Riff Raff to play an exaggerated version of himself in this year's ital Spring Breakers, starring Disney teen queen Selena Gomez, High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens, Pretty Little Liars' Ashley Benson, and Korine's wife Rachel as small town girls gone wild putting their lives in Riff Raff's drug-dealing hands. Unfortunately, he couldn't commit to the role and instead, James Franco plays an eerily accurate caricature of the rapper, right down to his cornrows and sparkling grills.
And yet, there’s a reason he wasn’t cast out with the rest of the World Star Hip Hop rejects. Maybe if we're lucky, he'll let us know the man behind the persona. For now, Rap Game Bon Jovi will have to do. I mean, it could be worse, right? He could be Rap Game Mark McGrath, then he'd really be shit out of luck.
For more on Riff Raff, follow him on Twitter and check out the tracks mentioned in this article in our REPLAY playlist, right here. As a special gift to you—really, the pleasure is ours—we've included "Tiger Woods" below for your enjoyment. You're welcome.