It isn’t clear when rappers started singing better than pop stars. Maybe the opportunity was always present, just never fully cultivated. Maybe it was when waves of artists like Ja Rule and 50 Cent, T-Pain or Future, Kanye or Drake began bursting onto the scene. It might just be a byproduct of the democratization of the production process, thanks to Fruity Loops, Garageband, and even Playstation’s MTV Music Generator. Whatever the case, the trend is in full effect now. It’s close to a prerequisite for rappers to be able to transition from intricate rhymes to deft melodies and harmonies. And sometimes you only need the latter. The line between rapping and singing has never been thinner, often displayed over superb, simple production. Roddy Ricch, a buzzing rapper from Compton, is the latest example of that shift.
Roddy Ricch has a nasally voice and sings with an almost spiritual intensity. Although he hails from the West Coast, his vocal delivery is indebted to the South, more Rich Homie Quan than YG. The viral success of “Die Young,” his best song to date, is similarly a paradox. The London On Da Track and Rex Kudo-produced beat is a somber requiem, with light, twinkling keys that offset its dark subject matter. Lyrics like “Gotta keep it on me, I don’t wanna die young / I rather be judged by twelve, than carried by six” are delivered with an oddly triumphant air. 11 million YouTube views and 8 million Spotify plays later, this deeply personal song is now on the verge of crossing over to mainstream success.
“Die Young” is dedicated to XXXTentacion, Lil Snupe and Speaker Knockerz — three rappers with seemingly no personal connection to Ricch, but he honors them like they each was a childhood friend. “I didn’t really personally know [XXXTentacion], but at the same time, he was a very influential person and a lot of people tend to connect with him for some type of reason,” Roddy told Genius in October. “I feel like people with that kind of power, always seem to fade away or die or fall off or something.”
Raw, succinct and solid, Ricch’s follow up mixtape, Feed Tha Streets II delivers on the potential of his viral hit by doubling down on Roddy’s unique voice. Instead of searching for another “Die Young,” the tape’s standout is that song’s antithesis, the celebratory “Nascar.” It’s proof that he’s not a one-hit wonder, but his one hit is still the place to start.