Roddy Ricch’s emerald-and-acorn-colored eyes keep darting to the door. Seated in an all-white dressing room in New York, the Southern California rapper, 21, has the distinct look on his face of someone who doesn’t trust anyone in his immediate vicinity. He’s a quiet, perceptive presence; there’s a low hum radiating off him at all times. A few months ago, when I spoke to him over the phone, he refused to reveal his government name. But this time, for some reason, a few weeks before the release of Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial — his brutal, heart-wrenching debut album — he wants to open up about the war stories of his youth.
“I been through a lot,” he says. “Going through shit like bullets flying, it’ll fuck you up a little bit. It triggers something else in you. This fame shit is new to me. Being in rooms where you don’t have to worry about shit, I don’t get that side of life yet. I’ll be in the room with millionaires and billionaires and still be like, ‘What’s going on? Who’s that at the door?’”
That gnawing sense of paranoia is at the center of Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial. On “War Baby,” the album’s final song and emotional centerpiece, Roddy croons in a cracked yelp, “I’m a war, war, war baby/Post-traumatic stress, I know the war changed me.” The song functions like anti-gospel; a choir joins Roddy to sing about robbery and violence. It’s a macabre, but fitting, example of the charming ruthlessness inherent in most of Roddy’s best music. That double-sided approach to his past transformed him from a West Coast curiosity to a Grammy-nominated, streaming force in less than two years — and just helped him beat out Camila Cabello and The Who for the Number One spot on the Rolling Stone Top 200 Chart, selling 101,500 album-equivalent units of his debut in its first week.
Stylistically, Roddy is what happens when two of hip-hop’s most important locales are stripped for parts and reassembled miles away from their origins. His scorched voice and melodic delivery are far more indebted to the AutoTuned acrobatics of Atlanta trap stars (Future, Young Thug) and Chicago drill pioneers (Lil Durk, Chief Keef) than anything that’s come out of California in the last decade. Roddy’s defining quality as a writer is the lengths he goes to illustrate the highs of his new luxurious life, then contrast it with intense lows of his past. It’s the American Dream, rewritten for 2019. For every mention of Forgiatos, Phantoms, and Maybachs, there’s a story of death and violence, loss and life-long incarceration. His first hit, 2018’s “Die Young” — a mournful song about the passing of rising rapper XXXTentacion — transitions from mentions of expensive consumer brands to the question that’s come to dominate Roddy’s life: “Why the legends always gotta die quick?”
Roddy — whose real name is Rodrick Wayne Moore, Jr., I know now — grew up between Los Angeles and Compton with a religious mother and a father who was hard to pin down. Today, he speaks of Christianity and its sway over his family with a nihilistic tilt. “A lot of street dudes, you know their grandma go to church every Sunday,” he explains. “A lot of people in the pen, a lot of that come from them running away from that. They seen they grandma always going to church, mama always going to church, but they still struggling. This the reality of some peoples’ life. [Church] just drives them away.”
He was baptized around age seven. A few years later, church had a hand in his meeting a far more pious rapper than he, by the name of Kendrick Lamar. Lamar encouraged Roddy to continue rapping after a spur-of-the-moment freestyle. “He went to my mama church,” Roddy says. “Just randomly, I went one day, and he was there with his peoples. This was before ‘Swimming Pools’ had came out. I had rapped for him and he told me, ‘You going to be somebody in the world.’”
The two rappers’ lives diverged from there. While Lamar went on to detail the story of a good kid surviving in a raging city, Roddy embraced and channeled the Los Angeles’ perpetual chaos. He talks about a tumultuous childhood with icy calm, using a memory about the first time he got kicked out of his mother’s house to illustrate life in South Central.
“Broadway is this long street off downtown,” Roddy says. “I walked about 20 blocks in the middle of the night. I’m walking through different neighborhoods. On some corners, the entire corner is blood on the floor, the entire corner. Just imagine walking through that, feeling like, ‘I could die, just like that person died right here.’ There’s candles and signs. Sometimes that shit make you feel crazy. Like, did I defeat death?”
From eighth through tenth grade, Roddy went to therapy for what he now describes as anger and antisocial behavior. By the last two years of high school, he was fully embedded in the streets, and stopped attending the sessions. “Nigga, I was in the field,” he says, describing his first robbery with the nostalgia of a former high school athlete discussing their varsity days. He remembers pulling up to a restaurant with a group of friends and throwing an ill-timed rock through a window, just to prove himself. “We pulled up to the spot. I hopped out. Since it was my first one, they like, ‘Let’s make sure he with the bullshit. He ain’t just riding along to get some money.’ And I showed I was going to get it.”
By age 18, things caught up to Roddy. He wrecked his car, then faced a potential gun charge, and stayed in the county jail for a week awaiting bail. The thought, while waiting to be charged, that he might lose the rest of his teen years to prison immediately soured Roddy on his previous life.
“When I caught that gun case… I wasn’t scared of it, but it hit me like, ‘I’m really going to have to sit down if this shit goes south,’” he says. “And I didn’t want to do that. I don’t want to lose my time to some bullshit. At the same time, I’m seeing homies pass away. I got to do something positive. That’s when the rap shit came about. Literally within six months my shit was moving, because I really just sat down and started writing.”
Roddy spent the next year recording on and off until he had his debut mixtape, Feed The Streets, in November 2017. In that time, he developed a distinctive style. He credits summer visits to Chicago and Atlanta for influencing his sound: He remembers vividly being in the first city when Chief Keef took off, or spending time in the other when Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan were emerging as dominant creative forces. Quickly, he harnessed that energy for himself and never let go. “They don’t give a fuck about West Coast, East Coast,” Roddy says of his fans (and, more broadly, the era he now finds himself leading). “The kids ain’t giving a fuck about that shit. I started gaining the mentality of ‘Why should I give a fuck about that? Why should I limit myself to a certain sound, just because of where I’m from?’”
Even once his career began to take off, Roddy couldn’t escape death. His collaboration with the late Nipsey Hussle, “Racks in the Middle,” was one of the last songs released by the rapper, community leader, and philanthropist before he was shot dead in L.A. in March. The song was recently nominated for a Grammy, but even that felt bittersweet. “I got a portrait of Nipsey at my house, bro,” he says. “I got to put a platinum plaque by that, and my brother is not here to share that with me. That’s his first platinum single. We did that together. Nigga, that hurt me… But at the same time, that’s life.”
What’s it like looking at that every day? “I love it,” Roddy interjects. “I love it because I can always keep that man with me.”
On the intro to Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, Roddy — as he always does — lays out the extent of his tragedies to underline the magnitude of his success. Roddy sings with anguish: “My big bro behind bars, fighting 200 years/I got the call I lost my dog, I don’t know how to feel.”
“When a person go to jail, what people don’t realize is you’re alive, but you’re dead to the world,” he says bluntly. “People forget about you. When you go to jail, you’re a story.”
“I really just be feeling like I got dead friends that are alive, somewhere. My nigga got life. I can’t never walk in the streets with him no more.”
From the beginning, Roddy has mined the emotional complexities that come with seeing an entire generation of your peers locked away. On songs like 2018’s “Ricch Forever,” his emerging voice isn’t yet at full strength, but the urgency is there, completely intact. “Remember I was talking to him on the jail phone on Christmas,” he raps out loud as he sits in the dressing room. “Said when he get out, we gon’ add the check up like arithmetic/If he try to rob a nigga, I vow to get the stick.”
“That’s real shit,” he says of the lyrics. “I was on the phone with my best friend on Christmas like, ‘Bro, when you get out, I’m gonna have a plan. We gonna get some money. I’m gonna do this rap shit.’ At the time, I’m broke. He in jail. I’m just telling him, ‘This is my plan.’”
Eventually, the same best friend he spoke to that Christmas about his plan arrived back home, just as Roddy dropped “Die Young.” “When he got out, he came to the ‘Die Young’ release shit,” Roddy shares, mentioning how his mother finally got to meet his best friend. “[He] died three weeks after, four weeks after.”
When asked about the specifics of the death, Roddy simply states, “high-speed chase.”
“That moment made me feel like life is a test,” he says. “Life is always going to be a positive and a negative. My whole life changed positively and negatively. I will never be able to share a fucking shot with my nigga. I can’t pour up no Ace [of Spades]. I can’t celebrate with this man ever in my life again.”
Just a year and a half removed from his initial breakthrough, Roddy has the Number One album in the country, and he’s poised to enter the new decade as the West Coast’s latest superstar. But even when he wins, there are people who will never get to enjoy the spoils of his victory.
“At the time, I didn’t have nothing to celebrate,” he continues. “Now I got something to celebrate with this man, I ain’t got nobody to celebrate it with.”
“That shit is just life.”