When we reached Riff Raff (sometimes stylized as RiFF RaFF and also known as Jody Highroller) by phone, he was trying to find the remote for the air conditioner in his three-bedroom hotel suite, which he found uncomfortably cold. "Yeah, I need a butler in here," he said. "I should just be able to clap twice -- heat on. Clap once, heat off."
The rapper (who shortly thereafter told us not to refer to him as a rapper and went on to do so himself) has gone from being an internet sensation with a cult fan base to a lightning rod in the music community. He has champions, like Riff's Mad Decent label boss and producer Diplo, and detractors, like Hot 97 programming director Ebro Darden, who ripped into Riff in an on-air interview. "People either love me or hate me," Riff sighed. "I can't think of another artist like that."
From Kanye West to Ke$ha, there are plenty of other divisive artists, but Riff's actually mostly right. There are no other artists like him, because very few artists so consistently elicit the response Riff Raff seems to ignite: Is this all a joke?
"People who are questioning me or wondering if I'm real or fake -- I'm confused by those questions," the performer said. "What do you mean? Have I ever fumbled the ball?! That's my question. If I'm scoring 50 a game and people are like, 'Oh, that's a fluke,' I'm like, what do you mean?! I'm scoring 50 a fucking game, the stats are right here. The proof is right here, I've never fumbled the ball. I don't think anyone is putting as much effort as me."
With, as he says, "over 100 songs that haven't even been released yet and 90 original videos," Riff is certainly an industrious artist. And it's true that he's operated outside of the major label system for the duration of his career, so if self-hyping was a category at the Grammys (as opposed to, say, all the categories), Riff would definitely deserve at least a nomination. But while he's already a prolific artist, he also thinks he hasn't even really started. "I have yet to drop a debut album," Riff said. "All of the things that people have seen are basically just me single-handedly raising the birth of an icon. So when I drop that 'Neon iCON,' it's not a joke. It's the beginning of something great. When I drop my album, that's day one. Then I'm a rookie, and people can judge me."
"Yes, I'm a millionaire," he continued breathlessly. "Yes, I'm a movie star; yes, I have millions of views; yes, I drive expensive cars; yes, I go to the finest hotels and only talk to the prettiest girls. All of these things are true, but I have yet to be in the NBA yet. Imagine a college player that does all of the things an NBA player does, but now it's draft day. People who second guess me: 'Go get the facts.'"
On "draft day" (some day in August), Riff's going to unleash the album that he's worked on extensively with Diplo. For the uninitiated, Diplo's the man who helped incubate Baauer's "Harlem Shake" into a No. 1 hit, turned Snoop Dogg into a reggae-bumping Lion and helped shaped careers for quirky superstar artists like M.I.A. Riff trusts him: "He's more like a guidance counselor. I'm on this side with him, you know what I mean? I'm not a rapper -- I'm not saying I'm against rappers, that's not even my category to talk about. I'm just in my Riff Raff lane. When you want that Kanye West and Justin Bieber-type rotation and love, it has to be more than just a few DJs who are fans. It's gotta be like, this is playing at 9 o'clock, 9:07, 9:21 and so on. We have shit planned out for the whole next year. My life and my career do not revolve around this album, but it will be my biggest music debut ever. Well, to date. To date."
But is he a rapper? The aforementioned visit to Hot 97 -- New York's most powerful hip-hop radio station -- went about as horribly as possible, but though Riff said it stung at the time, he seems to have moved on: "That guy [Darden is Hot 97's programming director] is not even qualified to be talking to me. I know nothing about him and I wouldn't even talk to him in public. I was appreciative to be there with Hot 97, but I was there with [hosts Cipha Sounds and Peter Rosenberg]. I thought the other guy was just an intern who was just taking notes and watching the pros do it. But that's another story -- that's not The Huffington Post, that's D-league Hot 97 stuff."
"If I wanted to be accepted in the hip-hop community, I would be dating black girls and over here hanging out with rappers," he continued. "But I'm not!" But when the discussion turns TomorrowWorld, a mega-dance music festival taking place outside of Atlanta this fall, he grows excited. "Hell yeah, that's a big deal," Riff said. "I'm the only rapper they have there!"
One thing Riff Raff definitely wasn't is the star of "Spring Breakers," though James Franco's character, a Floridan rapper who looks and speaks an awful lot like our Jody Highroller. Riff's made a cottage industry out of commenting on the movie, which he claims he was originally supposed to star in (he says didn't respond to an email in time, but Franco begs to differ), but partly because reporters keep asking him about it. We asked him to identify something positive and negative that came out of the experience. Here's his answer:
"People mistake me all the time in the street and be like, 'Yo, are you that dude from 'Spring Breakers?' I know that doesn't happen to James Franco, because he doesn't dress like me, and even if he did, they're be like, 'You're not as big as Riff Raff.' There's a lot of people who have a Riff Raff-type of look, and I'm not that mad about that. I'm not some little dude like that, I'm a big guy who plays sports. This is my real hair, it's not a weave. But then, I can put my hair down and chill at the beach. I'm like an iPhone 5 -- you can do all sorts of stuff. But if you get a flip-face Motorola, they'll be like, [whines] 'Hey, my phone can't do all that' You have a damn flip-face Razr Motorola. It's not my fault that I'm better than someone -- it doesn't make me fake, it just makes me better."
In the time since our interview and the publication of this article, Riff Raff ran into TMZ's photographers in Hollywood. They asked him about "Spring Breakers," and he casually informed the paps that he's suing "them" for "$8-10 million." The exact target of the suit, which may or may not actually exist (Riff's reps were unsure at the time of this writing) had yet to be determined. "It's like if I have a front yard," Riff explained on the street, "and you're planting soil and you're planting trees and building peaches and houses and selling parking lots on my property ... then I deserve to be compensated for some portion of that money."
Say what you will about Riff Raff (Is he a rapper? Is he a meme?), but this iPhone 5 is most definitely operating out of his own front yard.