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Artist to Watch: Rapper Rye Rye Updates Baltimore Club Music

20-year-old M.I.A. protégé talks about her musical influences, finishing high school and showing her hometown what she's got

March 17, 2011 1:55 PM ET

Watch Rye Rye perform live in the Rolling Stone offices

WHO: Rye Rye, a 20-year-old rapper from Baltimore, began her career in music at 15 working with DJ Blaqstarr. Within a couple of months she had caught the attention of Diplo and M.I.A., who brought her on tour while she was still in high school. More recently, the fledging rapper was signed to M.I.A.'s N.E.E.T. Recordings label, and will put out her debut album Go! Pop! Bang! sometime this year.

SOUNDS LIKE: Exuberant, extremely energetic hip-hop. Rye Rye is mainly influenced by Baltimore club music, which she says is much faster and more bass-heavy than mainstream rap. "It's real grimey and real hard, it's just different," she says. "We have our own dance style that we can only do to Baltimore club music or anything that's in that tempo." Baltimore club music also has its own sense of style. "When I first started touring with M.I.A., I'd show up to the club wearing stuff, and people'd be like 'what's she got on?' but now people are starting to get it."

MUSICAL EDUCATION: Rye Rye says that when she started recording songs with DJ Blaqstarr it was just for fun, but the positive response to early tracks such as "Shake It to the Ground" encouraged her to become an artist. Getting serious about music meant learning more about it, and her new mentors did their part to give her a musical education. "I was listening to a lot of typical hip hop and R&B, I wasn't exposed to a lot of techno music and pop music," she says. "I was very close-minded – working with M.I.A. and Diplo I got exposed to all different types of music." This set her apart from her friends back in Baltimore, though. "People in Baltimore are used to what they grew up hearing on the radio. Even nowadays when they hear different stuff like techno music, pop music, they frown their faces, they think 'what is this, what are you listening to?" And I'm just like 'you're all just late.'"

GROWING UP ON THE ROAD: Rye Rye says that touring with M.I.A. at 17 totally changed her perspective on life. "The bad thing about that was that I had to be around people who did a lot of drugs, people who were super drunk. This was very shocking to me," she says. "The good thing about it was that it matured me a lot, and ever since I went on tour with M.I.A. my whole mindset changed. I'm just all about positivity."

HOMEWORK AFTER THE SHOW: While on tour, Rye Rye kept up with her high school studies as much as she could. "I had to do my schoolwork on tour, but it was a distraction. I'm used to all this other amazing and fun stuff going on, but it was taking my focus off of schoolwork," she says. The lure of pop stardom took its toll, especially when she was faced with the decision of either going out on another leg of M.I.A.'s tour or finishing high school. "It was a hard decision, but I stayed in school," she says. "It was very overwhelming because I was used to the tour and I had to go back to being a normal person. My principal said it was like moving out of your parents' house and going to college and then having to come back to your parents' house."

LAST WEEK: Pains of Being Pure at Heart Show Off a Bold New Sound

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Song Stories

“Stillness Is the Move”

Dirty Projectors | 2009

A Wim Wenders film and a rapper inspired the Dirty Projectors duo David Longstreth and Amber Coffmanto write "sort of a love song." "We rented the movie Wings of Desire from Dave's brother's recommendation, and he had me go through it and just write down some things that I found interesting, and they made it into the song," Coffman said. As for the hip-hop connection, Longstreth explained, "The beat is based on T-Pain. We commissioned a radio mix of the song by the guy who mixes all of Timbaland's records, but the mix we made sounded way better, so we didn't use it."

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