Roddy Ricch's Year of Thinking Outside 'The Box'

First-round Grammy voting gets underway on September 30th and runs through October 12th. For our 2021 Grammy preview issue, we asked a series of likely contenders for next year’s awards to reflect on their past experiences at the ceremony, look ahead to the future, and discuss the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come January.

Roddy Ricch started off the year ablaze: His debut album, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, was one of 2020’s first big full-length hits, and his single “The Box” turned into an even bigger smash, dominating TikTok, radio, and streaming services globally. The Compton rapper accented his success with three nominations for the 2020 Grammys, resulting in one win this past January — a bittersweet Best Rap Performance trophy for “Racks in the Middle,” his collaboration with the late Nipsey Hussle and Hit-Boy.

While the world has been sheltering in place, the prodigious 21-year-old has been practicing gratitude. “I ain’t really been complaining right now, because before my album I was on the road a lot,” he says, calling from his Los Angeles home. He’s been spending time with family, celebrating holidays, like the Fourth of July, in a way he hasn’t been able to do in years.

Looking inward at the mind of a kid on the threshold of superstardom was a major theme on Roddy’s debut LP. Now that he’s made it, he’s had time to sit back and unpack what it all means. “Just imagine if the world was regular right now,” he says. “I’d be on the road. I’d probably be across the country somewhere, not really taking in everything. Being home has allowed me to understand way more.”

You began rapping when you were eight years old. How did you start?
My uncles used to rap just for fun. They’d be recording something, and I’d be in the corner rapping to myself. When I got older, like 16 or so, I started to rap my own personal experiences. Life just kind of prompted me to do my own thing, have a voice, and say whatever I was going through at the time. To this day, that’s what I do: I talk about my reality. Hopefully, kids going through the same thing can get help from what I’m saying.

Do you remember your first song?
First beat I ever rapped to ever in my life is Rick Ross, “Push It to the Limit,” off his Port of Miami album. It’s crazy to come full circle, having homies like Meek Mill and meeting Ross for the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever told him that.

What was the turning point that helped you go from rapping as a hobby to making it a career?
I never really looked at it like that — like, “This is what I have to do.” When you chase accolades, that’s when you lose yourself. I never chased anything I ever did. It just fell into place. When my mixtape Feed tha Streets II first came out [in 2018], the mixing was wrong on it. The Auto-Tune didn’t hit on certain songs as it should. Some of the vocals were boring, some of the beats were hot. I was pretty mad at that. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to the product I’m putting out, and I know how I want it to sound. That taught me the lesson of letting things happen as they will. I just create and hope people gravitate to what I’m saying.

Was the process for making your debut album any different?
The one thing I appreciate with my label is that they were very open to my creative process. They realized that they could trust me. The way I created it is not normal — I just grabbed all these different ideas and put them together at the end, and they felt like it was a masterpiece. That’s just how I do it.

How long did that take you? Was it a time-consuming process?
It don’t really happen in a week or a month. I’ll give you an example. Say this week I’d be in the house, and I’m just chilling. I’m recording no songs this week. But I [might] call up my guys and take a little jet to Palm Springs real quick. Hour flight from L.A., just outside the city, go catch a vibe. In three days I can make 50, 60 songs. Something crazy. That’ll compensate for the week I was just chilling.

It’s never consistent, like, “He makes five songs a day.” I can make 50 songs in three days. I can make five of them in one day. Or I can make no songs. It’s just based off of my experiences and how my life is progressing. That’s the most important thing. If I’m not experiencing life, I can’t make music. If I’m not having nothing to go through, I have nothing to talk about then. It ain’t no point in the music. That’s the whole basis of my music, going through life and going through trials and tribulations.

How did a hit song like “The Box” figure into the free-flowing process you’re talking about? How long did it take you to make that one?
It took me about 30 minutes.

Wow.
Thirty minutes, and it was six o’clock in the morning. I was in New York at Jungle Studios. A lot of people record there, and everybody else was asleep. I was up by myself, making this song. It was the last song of the night. I ended up going from 6:30 to 7:00 — I remember, because we left at, like, 7:15. [Atlantic Records A&R executive Keith “Keefa” Parker] was asleep. I woke him up, and I played the song and I said, “It’s missing something.” I put the [windshield wiper] sound in there, and that was that. I just really just go with whatever I’m feeling, and after I make a certain feeling in the song, I don’t mess with it no more. I said what I said, and I said what I meant.

As far as an album, you take your time and you make it an experience for the people who listen to it. Sometimes I take more time [getting] into the depth of the song. A lot of the songs that I took more time with the writing, sometimes those aren’t even the songs that be the biggest ones.

What song took you the longest on this album?
“War Baby” took the longest. I held that one for a long time, just because of all the different components that was in the song. At first it didn’t have no choir. Then we did the choir. It was a lot of things that went into the actual song. People gravitated towards that one, too [laughs].

Your engineer has said that you recorded more than 250 songs for Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial.
Yes, somewhere around there. Like 250 or 300.

“The first album was just my first album. Yeah, it was big. But that was the first time I ever even did that shit.”

How did you begin to pare down from the hundreds of songs you made?
When you go into album mode, you have an idea of what you want to create. What message am I trying to get across? Because it was my first album, I wanted people to understand a different side of me. I wanted to explain my truth on different beats. I don’t want two songs to sound too similar, even though you want to be sonically correct.

I created a body of work where I focused on who I was internally, because a lot of people don’t even know who I am. In the future, I plan on getting better at it. The first album was just my first album. I’ve got to remind people of that all the time. Yeah, it was big. I had big songs on there. But that was the first time I ever even did that shit.

I like to see progression. So whenever I decide to go back into that album mode, I know that different things that I have experienced since my album will bleed through my music, and I’ll be able to share that with people. Going from somebody who was just … I don’t want to say normal, because I was locally famous. But you become this international superstar. It’s different. It’s a lot of things that I used to do that I can’t do anymore, like being in my neighborhood. I love my neighbors. I love going to my neighborhood. But just imagine going to your neighborhood and everybody wants to take a picture. In my eyes, I’m still the same young nigga that I was just over a year or two ago. I just want to be over here just like everybody else.

You won your first Grammy earlier this year for a song you made with your hero and friend Nipsey Hussle. What was that day like for you?
I’m looking at my Grammy right now. It’s on the mantel. It’s right next to a picture with Nipsey Hussle and me. I’ll never forget that day. I lost one of the pillars of L.A. basketball, Kobe Bryant. So that was going on. When they told me I won, we was in the side room. I remember feeling a lot of the pressure that I would put on myself dropping off of me. Winning that award made me feel like, “You good.” It put something in me where I was like, “You are on the right path. You’re doing the right thing. You’re making all the right decisions.”

Being acknowledged on that scale and being this young … it’s just different. As a person, I feel like I chose the right thing because people of a certain stature picked me to be someone to hold that trophy in my house.

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