Riff Raff is explaining to me how someday he’s going to open up a baby-oil water park. “Oh man, that would be crazy, you know, baby-oil slides, stripper pole,” he says in his patented Texas drawl. “Imagine that—instead of the water, you got the baby oil.” As absurd as it sounds, it’s hard to tell whether or not this Houston-based rapper is joking.
Riff Raff has a reputation for messing with people. He rarely gives straight answers in interviews and takes just about any opportunity to diverge into random thoughts and tangents. The only real glimpse we get inside the mind of the man who changes monikers (Jody Highroller, Iceberg Simpson, Kokayne Dawkins, etc.) more than his wardrobes is found in his Vine and Instagram accounts, which are filled with snippets of absolute absurdity. In one of his Vines, the rapper zooms in on a glass of lemon water, saying, “Citrus waater, the water is so citrusy, citrusy goodness for the whole teeeeam!” In another, he orders room service pretending to be James Franco and removes a puppy from a pot, and says, “Oooh, the puppy!”
There are few rappers who show more personality, but as open and hilarious as Riff Raff appears to be on social media, we hardly know anything about him. This aloofness—combined with the fact that his first major-label release, Neon Icon, has experienced nearly as many setbacks as Dr. Dre’s Detox—has transformed the self-anointed Butterscotch Prince into a polarizing figure, an artist fans and critics struggle to nail down but love to discuss.
Riff Raff claimed in an interview with LA Weekly that “My mom was a pilot and my dad wrestled polar bears,” and when I ask him about his upbringing in Texas, he replies, “Oh, I don’t talk about my past.” All we know for sure is that young Riff grew up in the suburbs of Houston as a shy, gangly kid who idolized Vanilla Ice and went by his birth name, Horst Christian Simco. How, when and why he became Riff Raff is still a mystery. The only thing we know for certain about Riff Raff is that he is equally entertaining as he is fascinating, and really, that’s one of the most important qualities for any artist.
His fans, the Neon Nation, claim he’s a misunderstood genius, a prophet draped in cornrows and Versace who recites catchy gospel like, “I shook dice with Larry Bird in Barcelona.” Dorm-room think tanks deliberate on whether he’s a living commentary on the overblown excess of the music industry, or perhaps an actor playing the long con like Andy Kaufman or Joaquin Phoenix. And, of course, the hip-hop purists toss him into the lowly subgenres of “dumb-it-down rap,” brushing him off as a talentless hack who mocks rap music and therefore should be ignored.
“The people who don’t want me to succeed expect me to never drop Neon Icon,” Riff says. “ ‘Oh, he’s just a big joke; oh, he’s just lying to people,’ and my fans be like, ‘When he drops this album, it’s gonna be the biggest album of the year.’ ”
Neon Icon is set to be released on the EDM label Mad Decent, under the meticulous eye of production wizard and label owner Diplo. Based on what’s been dropped so far, it could very well be one of the most compelling albums of 2014. In the video for Neon Icon’s lead-off single, “Dolce & Gabbana,” we find Riff Raff dancing in a studio with models and steamrolling through head-scratching nonsequiturs like, “Your bitch playing strip poker/ I’m outside eatin’ fried okra/ (With who?) With Oprah!” The track is classic Jody Highroller. Though the actual lyrics don’t always fit within the bars, his one-liners are arguably the best in the game. Later on, he raps, “I’m sitting in Tahoe/ You already know, rap game Bo/ Rap game Bo Jackson/ My trunk still relaxin’.”
Whether you hate it or not, Neon Icon will be a project that won’t be ignored. However, the longer the album sits on deck, the longer the doubt surrounding Riff Raff as a legitimate artist will linger. But according to Riff Raff, Neon Icon hasn’t seen the light of day because an unnamed major label has jumped on board and is preparing for a wider release in big-box stores such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy. “I can’t say a date anymore; it’s not even up to Diplo,” he says. “We got a major-label situation we’re dealing with. Now, it’s gonna be everywhere. Anywhere you see a Justin Bieber CD, you gonna see my CD; that’s why it got pushed back.”
The album is a who’s who of rap heavy hitters—Drake, A$AP Rocky, Juicy J and 2Chainz—but, as Riff Raff points out, it goes beyond rap music. “Neon Icon isn’t just a rap album; there’s country songs, rock songs,” he says. “It’s not just classified as rap.”
Considering everything we know (or don’t know) about Jody Highroller, his non-rap rap album could be just as preposterous as his story about his polar-bear-wrestling dad and his baby-oil waterpark. But at the very least, Neon Icon should shed some light on, well, something.
“Look, it’s gonna answer a lot of questions: ‘What is he? What does he do?’ ” Riff Raff says. “I’m an artist that was seen in public before the album dropping. A lot of people drop an album and then they’re known. I’m known and now I’m dropping an album.”
536 W. 100 South
Saturday, May 17, 7 p.m.
$22 in advance, $27 day of show