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The Weird World of Riff Raff

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"Why are we talking about this past shit?" Riff Raff says. "You’re asking all these questions about old, negative shit I climbed out of, making me even more stressed." He’s staring intensely at the corner of his bedroom, avoiding eye contact. "You ain’t gonna know about me by talking about the past. Haters care about that. My fans, they care about where I’m going." He becomes absorbed in his phone, and the conversation grows awkward. After a few minutes, he springs to his feet. "Can you do me a favor? I’m gonna get clean, get dressed. Can you get my car washed?" He hands me the Panamera’s matte-black fob. "Make them clean the outside, quick vacuum inside, put the Armor All shit on the tires, and make sure they clean in between the rims. And I know how much money's in the console," he adds. 

In the car, there is nothing in the console but a one-dollar bill and an empty condom wrapper. It's almost seven o'clock. I visit five different car washes, but they've all closed. After a while, I pick up Riff Raff and we head out to knock as many errands off his list as possible — he asks me to drive so he can catch up on text-messages.

Our first stop is a restaurant in West Hollywood, where Milonakis has offered to introduce Riff Raff to a friend with purported legal expertise, to discuss the Spring Breakers lawsuit. "I'm gonna see if I have a case," Riff Raff tells me. In addition to the way James Franco’s character dresses and speaks in the film, there are similarities in Spring Breakers between lines of dialogue and quotes that Riff Raff has given in the past. But both Franco and the film’s director, Harmony Korine, have called Riff Raff simply one among several inspirations for Franco's character, and not a central inspiration at that. (Through their representatives, both Franco and Korine declined to speak for this story.) The restaurant where Milonakis and his friend are waiting is a tony, burnished-wood type of place, and assorted dining grayhairs lower their silverware and gawk as Riff Raff crosses the floor in a toxically green tank top and pink swim-shorts. Ordering a lobster entrée, then quickly summoning the waiter to cancel it, Riff Raff asks Milonakis's friend, who turns out to be a high-stakes poker player, to estimate his chances of legal success.

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When Riff Raff has mentioned this lawsuit during interviews and on Twitter, it's seemed like a publicity stunt, much like when he appeared on One Life to Live earlier this year playing a shady art dealer named Jamie Franko — a brain-bending wink, devised by the people behind the soap, at Franco's own prankish turn on General Hospital. "He did some great ad-libbing," says Gary Donatelli, who directed Riff Raff's episode. "We don’t normally ask people to improvise, but he was hilarious." "It was this meta-meta-meta joke," says Angelica Cob, a spokeswoman for the soap. "We knew casting Riff Raff would go viral, and it did."

Riff Raff
Riff Raff
Mike Windle/WireImage

Riff Raff has neither filed suit yet nor retained a lawyer to do so, but while he asks that I keep the particulars of the dinner conversation off the record, it's clear that he's genuinely angry about what he sees as pure theft, and that he genuinely desires legal recourse. Korine's and Franco's disavowals seem to sting most: If you devoted your entire life to the creation of an all-consuming, sui generis identity, how would you feel watching one of the planet's biggest movie stars crib from it, then deny doing so?

After ten minutes of inconclusive ersatz-legalese, we leave. Milonakis has invited Riff Raff to pop up onstage at the Whiskey later on tonight, and he calls out, "Be there at 11! Don’t be late!" It’s about nine o'clock now. Our next destination is the Mad Decent headquarters, across town in Atwater, where Riff Raff has managed to book studio time. As we head east, he plays songs from Neon Icon. Some feature trademark nonsequitur-riddled rhymes; on others he simply croons a single refrain over and over. The music is where he wants it to be, he says, but the sound isn't. "I'm about to spend $30,000 of my own money to get it mixed right," he says. "I heard the label went to my homeboy and asked him to mix it. I'm like, you're Diplo! Get Dr. Luke on my shit. Get whoever mixes Nicki Minaj to mix my shit."

At Mad Decent, Riff Raff dons a pair of headphones and an engineer named Derek cues up a beat built around four piercing notes. Riff Raff's friend and collaborator Lil Debbie sits in the corner, bopping her head. Riff Raff unfolds a piece of printer-paper scribbled with rhymes, amendments and cross-outs. He raps one or two lines at a time, then asks Derek to bring the beat back, picking up where he left off, rapping a line or so more, backtracking, and so on — an incredibly exacting way to make music that sounds so brazenly casual. There are some marvelous boasts — "I'm in east Texas giving Versace swimming lessons"— but the dominant theme is privacy. "Getting harassed at the airport! Damn I need a private plane," he raps, then warns: "You suckas is confused. Stop asking me all the damn questions less we doing a cover shoot." I get the faint sense I’m hearing a diss track directed at me. "Sick," Derek says.

Riff Raff grows more animated as he goes, swaying and swerving, throwing up his hands, tossing back his head. In eleven minutes and fifty-three seconds, he's got the hook, verse and ad-libs in the can. "Play that back, loud," he says. Derek drags his cursor back and lets the track bang. Riff Raff listens to himself rapping, and for what seems like the first time all day, he smiles.

 

 

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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