I recently learned a lesson about the price of hesitation. Sometimes you need to say, “sure, now is a great time,” even when it isn’t.
I’ve been trying for almost two months to nail down an interview with RiFF RAFF. (Hereinafter, the artist will be referred to as Riff Raff, to save wear and tear on my shift fingers.) I had been corresponding with DJ Afterthought, who works with Riff Raff and had indicated he could set up a chat but had been unresponsive.
I decided to try one more email to see if I can set up an interview in a day or two. DJ Afterthought gets back to me surprisingly quickly, considering it’s a little before 9 a.m. That seems early for a hip-hop artist on a 46-city tour — a tour that comes to La Crosse’s Cavalier Theater on Feb. 6.
“How about now,” he asks.
I’m panicking. I have a jam-packed day and I can’t do it right that second, but I send back an email asking if we could do it in half an hour or so. Didn’t hear back from him that day — or any day since.
I was crushed that I had missed my window. I had so much I wanted to know.
I’ll be honest: I had never heard of Riff Raff before his concert here was announced. But younger teammates on my trivia league team were so excited when they heard he was coming. They’re in their 20s and 30s, and after seeing their enthusiasm, I thought there might be something to this guy.
From what I have gathered from my homework, Riff Raff is no run-of-the-mill rhythmic rhymer. Born Horst Simco in Texas, Riff Raff strikes me as a top-notch performance artist who has created an over-the-top caricature of a rapper — a Neon Icon, a Peach Panther, a Mr. Jody Highroller — an absurdist whose humor-infused, stream-of-consciousness songs sometimes center on celebrities from Jose Canseco, Mike Tyson, Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing to Punky Brewster, Marc Jacobs and Carlos Slim.
Riff Raff’s rhymes are sprinkled liberally with name-drops of luxury brands, like Lamborghini and Dolce & Gabbana, and I don’t think I came across a single song that didn’t mention Versace. Naturally, a lot of songs involve sex and drugs, but for some reason he dwells a lot on codeine, the narcotic cough syrup stuff.
Hip-hop is no stranger to hyperbole, but Riff Raff might take things to a new level. His Facebook page boasts that the tour will feature a killer light show and stage set and will be “a combo of a Midwestern tornado, a Gene Simmons in his prime live show with toungue (sic), Miami Ultra Festival, your Aunt Luciles (sic) knitting group, Armageddon, and the front seat of the huge roller coaster at Cedar Point.”
(I should note that all the letters in this post were capitalized except the i’s.)
If I had gotten to interview Riff Raff, I’d have asked him about his capitalization policy, what’s so great about codeine, what’s so great about Versace, how he liked playing college basketball in Hibbing, Minn., what Wiz Khalifa is really like (he’s on the new single with Riff Raff called “Test Drive”) and was he really suing the makers of 2013’s “Spring Breakers” because the character played by James Franco was essentially Riff Raff by a different name.
I think it’s possible that Riff Raff and Franco came to some kind of understanding over the movie because Franco stars in the video for Riff Raff’s “Only in America,” but I’m only speculating.
I’d also ask him about his massive weight gain, as this is something we’ve both experienced. Riff Raff has put on 70 pounds — from eating so much steak, he says — and I’ve put on (and lost) 70 pounds or more many times. We could have shared diet tips and deadly downfalls.
I expect an interview with Riff Raff would have been quite memorable. I read a Rolling Stone interview with him in which Riff Raff gave the reporter the keys to his car to get it washed, and I was bracing myself for some turns toward the absurd in a phone interview.
We’ll never know what might have been, but I have a feeling I know what might happen when this week’s column is published, if last week’s story on hip hop acts coming to town is any indication. That story got a few uncomplimentary comments online asserting that hip hop is not a legitimate form of music and that the practitioners are “thugs,” you know, like unionized public school teachers.
I’ve not been a big fan of hip hop, I’ll admit, kind of for the same reason I’ve never been a big basketball fan. To me, it’s too easy to score in basketball — what’s the sense of a game where each side could score at least 30 times in a game.
In the early days, hip hop seemed too easy to me, too. My sense was they were scavenging the best parts of songs, putting them together and making rhymes over it. I never paid it much more attention after my first impressions, and I know it has evolved into a much more complex and nuanced art form. Turns out, a lot of times people actually sing melodies in hip hop songs.
I’m going to give hip hop another chance. I’m sure I’ll like some artists and have no time for others. It’s not all thugs promoting bad lifestyles and disrespecting authority (and anyway, that sounds like rock ‘n’ roll to me). Some are promoting luxury and a life free of coughing.
Rock on ...