Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: Eccentric young rapper signs with major label; Writes catchy song based on borrowed beat; Inspires memes on Instagram and viral videos on TikTok; Lands on chart; Hits No. 1; Stays on top; Week after week, after week, after week. Sound familiar?
While it’s tempting to refer to Roddy Ricch as Lil Rod X — a natural sequel to last year’s most popular underdog story — don’t count on self-effacing Tweets or songs about horses from the Compton native. No one would accuse the 21-year-old rapper of acting immaturely, which is partly why his hit single, “The Box,” seems like such a departure. But the Grammys were all about gravitas, so Ricch was a perfect fit for the epic Nipsey Hussle tribute featuring John Legend, DJ Khaled and what appeared to be three hundred other people. Now he has his late friend to thank for his first Grammy after their collaboration, “Racks in the Middle,” won for best rap performance.
Next year, the streaming smash from his own album, “Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial,” will likely score noms for Ricch and his cowriter/producer, Samuel Gloade. “My proudest moment is the song going to No. 1,” says the Bronx native who is known professionally as 30 Roc. “I’ve had records that charted before, but there’s nothing like a No. 1, especially when you’re competing against Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. And now we’re battling the Futures. We’re like, ‘Damn! Everybody’s coming for us!’ But the fact is all this happened without a video. That’s how you know it’s organically just fire.”
Reflecting on the life of the song, Roc can point to the exact moment he realized it was about to blow up. “The day after the album came out, I went on iTunes and was like, ‘Damn! That’s the only song with a star on it?’ Then I went on Instagram and saw all the memes.” Roc has since devised a formula for predicting future hits: “If you see more than like 80 memes in a couple days, then you know it’s lit.” Admittedly, he still has a lot to learn about TikTok. “I’m still trying to get into that,” Roc says. “I might have to ask my little sister about it.”
Their social media boost nothwithstanding, Roc gives Ricch the lion’s share of credit for their success. “His voice stands out from anything that’s going on today,” says the producer. “When I hear him sing, I’m just like, ‘Oh s–t, there’s Roddy.’” Similarly, Roc’s beat is anything but your typical trap. “I thought it was pretty dope that we tried something different. I didn’t think he’d choose it, but he did — and I knew the beat would change his flow and change him.” It did seem to help Ricch to lighten up, and evidently fans like seeing this side of him for a change. “It wasn’t a ‘pain beat’ where he could go off about the struggle and what’s going on today or whatever,” says Roc. “Even though he’s talking some real s–t in it, this is a fun song for him.”
Despite his chart-topping success as a producer — not to mention the name of this column — Roc doesn’t want to be known as a hitmaker. “I mean, it’s dope putting songs together, but I’d rather be called a composer,” he says. “I have an actual music background: I was in a marching band.” In fact, the multi-instrumentalist can play piano, trumpet and drums; these days it’s just faster to make music on a MacBook: “I tell every artist I work with: ‘Give me the vocals — let me sit with it, let me mess with it, let me rock with it.’ I go really deep. Sometimes I’ll sit on songs for two or three months.” Fortunately, Ricch didn’t have to wait long since his distinctive voice warranted a less-is-more approach. “His vocals stand out,” says Roc. “I was doing too much so I had to dumb it down.”