For late December, Minneapolis is surprisingly sunny. But in the shadow of Riverside Plaza, Bobby Raps sits in a nearly pitch-black studio. In the room next door, shouting has sputtered into
an argument and throughout our interview it seeps through the wall.
“There’s a lot of shit that happened in this studio. I feel like
I hit rock bottom in this studio,” Bobby says,
referring to the years he lived here.
Last month, Bobby and his band The Stand4rd sold out every show of their debut tour. Yet Bobby, who just turned 22, still feels like a kid. It’s fitting, as his bandmates Allan Kingdom, Psymun, and Corbin (formerly Spooky Black) are all under 25. Like his cohorts, Bobby began young, rapping and making beats at 15-years-old. By his senior year of high school, Bobby released his debut mixtape Gimme Daps, and was becoming recognized around town for his sharpness in battle and energetic stage presence.
On February 21st, 2013, the St. Paul native opened for E-40 and Too $hort at Epic Nightclub. Following the after-party, Bobby nearly lost his life in a drive-by shooting. Since coming that close to death, Bobby’s music remains infused with the realness and pain of his experience. He clings to a moral compass. These stories aren’t based on fables or mindless boasting. For Bobby, this is life.
— Evan Gabriel
How old were you when you were sleeping in this studio?
Bobby Raps: 19 to 21. I got kicked out of my mom’s crib for having a party. I didn’t know what my plan was. I ended up at my other homie’s apartment and [his mentor] Tek was basically like, “C’mon Bobby you’re good, I got you, my big homie [Tek’s uncle A.K.] will fuck with you.” Came through here and it didn’t have nothing to do with music because K’s done this for quite a few people. I ended up staying pretty long. It turns out his son went to my high school. See everyone’s connected around here. It’s all St. Paul.
It’s funny how shit comes around like that. We started doing shows . . . beat battles and open mics downstairs at the Red Sea, just to like, break a little bread and shit. Then, Tek got locked up. And then there were a couple of other people living in [the studio] and everyone else just stopped coming around, and I kind of just inherited it. All of a sudden, I’m the one running sessions in here, getting $25 an hour, putting half of that down for A.K., for rent, and selling drugs. This shit was getting broken into. My laptop got stolen.
We threw an E-40 show with my big homie, he put like twenty racks into it. We [Bobby and Tip Madrigal] performed at it with Audio Perm. After the afterparty we were in a drive-by. They emptied a whole clip into the van. There were six shots into the van before I even knew what was going on. The whole left window’s gone. K got shot. We went to the hospital. The week after that, it was like I was dead. Like, “my life could have just been over.”
How long did rock bottom last?
Bobby: A couple weeks. I ended up getting a day job, coming home at night and running sessions, having parties. It wasn’t a bad time, I was struggling, just scraping by, but it was fun as fuck. My mom’s an alcoholic and has dealt with substance abuse. This shit right here, coming to the studio is like the best thing that could have happened to me. I hit rock bottom in this place.
And then I learned about being a fucking man and owning up to your actions and mending hands with my mom and now me and my mom are better than we’ve ever been before. I think my mom was at a point where she was like, “You got to go figure some things out on your own and you can’t stay here.” I’m very appreciative for that. Everything that I’ve gotten so far has all been extra. Because I already hit rock bottom. From here on out everything I get out of this is just extra. We got studios we can go to now that probably have like, better sound, but I still keep coming back here because this feels more like home than my own house now.
Minneapolis and St. Paul seem to have grown out of the Rhymesayers-dominated era. Can you talk about that?
Bobby: A lot of people who are skeptical about what we got going on in the Twin Cities will be like, “I go to a Minneapolis show and it’s just everybody I’ve ever known from high school.” What it’s starting to become, because of the footwork we’ve been putting in on it, it’s like all the people you know growing up, and then the other half of the crowd is people you’ve never seen before.
And you’re like, “I’ve never met you before,”
but they’re coming just off the strength of the music.
That’s very fulfilling to think about. I’m really proud of myself and Tip for being dedicated. I made this decision to be in music by the time I was 17. As a recent product of the school system, I grew up having people trying to bore things into my head, basically telling you to play it safe, go to school, make sure you’re secure, think about your future. People don’t go after what they’re feeling, the paths that could determine who they really are. Now I go to bars and it feels like high school. All these motherfuckers are already on their way, they just graduated college, work at a cubicle, and go to bars and hope and wish. Instead of going to climb Mt. Everest, they’re like, “I really wish I could climb Mt. Everest.”
Bobby: I feel very alone in the kind of people out there who can just drop everything they’re doing and dedicate their life to something. Music is what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t know what the fuck else I would do. There’s not a lot of other people out here like that. Tip’s my brother. Tek’s my brother. [The] Brain, he’s my brother. Motherfuckers were really in there before I had shit. And now people look at me like I’m famous because I got something going on and they want to get to know me and I’m like, “I have motherfuckers that I know in real life, and it has nothing to do with the idea of celebrity.”
What was the craziest experience you
had while on your debut tour with The Stand4rd?
Bobby: Going to Mike Dean’s house was fucking insane. I look up to that dude so much. He’s like the pioneer of southern hip-hop. I can recognize motherfuckers like that, who actually make this shit happen out of thin air. He came to our show [in New York] and was fucking with us because, you know, Allan is under Plain Pat’s management, they’re the homies. So we ended up at his crib, played him a couple joints, and that hat Tip is wearing is Mexican Wrestler’s association. That’s Mike Dean’s shit. He’s an inspiration. Oakland was nuts, because motherfuckers were rioting. It was like a bunch of kids who were too fucked up to be in public. When the show started some kid crowd-surfed onto stage and I immediately got in between him and Corbin and I just kind of had this moment of, “Okay, I don’t know if I should knock this dude out or just respectfully get him off stage.” He was just all fucked up like, “Okay cool.” I went over to security like, “Ya’ll need to do your job tonight or I’m going to end up clotheslining somebody!”
Bobby Raps breaks out his iPhone to thumb-up “Worn,”
his recent collaboration with Corbin, Psymun
and Shlohmo’s L.A. collective, We Did It.
With the [Roland] 202, Shlohmo was just like, “sing into this,” and I sang some falsetto shit and they put it on the track.
What was the best show of the tour?
Bobby: St. Paul was the best show of the tour. The energy of the St. Paul show was just magical as fuck. In Oakland there were like five kids trying to hand me a blunt. And there was like, young-looking girls grabbing my butt on stage. And I was like, damn, “don’t you guys know I’m fat and ugly?” The best part of touring, I’ll tell you, is rapping a song that you wrote and you look in the back of the crowd that’s sold out and somebody’s rapping every single lyric to your song, and you’re like, “damn I’ve never seen this person in my entire life, I’m 3,000 miles away from home.” Sometimes when you’re in the studio at 4 AM behind closed doors, in your zone, you don’t realize that the shit that you make right now is going to impact somebody.
“The Exodus” seems to be hinting strongly at separation, a disjoint of sorts. Can you talk about the concept behind that song?
Bobby: I was in L.A and we had just got to Mod Sun’s crib and I was chillin with him and Pat Brown, and they were like, “you need to stay out here for like a month.” And I was like, “I want to but I sort of have a life back in Minnesota.” It’s like, me being attached to my life back here, and people back here and having to let them go. Hopefully, you’ll understand why I’m doing this. It’s not because I don’t love you it’s just because I got to fucking do it, something bigger than me is telling me to do it. So it’s like, ya’ll gotta let me go and I have to let you go, but please don’t say I walked away because it’s not like that.
In Earmilk’s interview with The Stand4rd, you mentioned the saturation of talent in the Twin Cities. Can you talk about that?
Bobby: We experience all climates. And it’s like, you can learn how to maneuver up here. I always say it’s a lot of, you know, big personalities in a small place. Like, you can get from one side of St. Paul to the other side of Minneapolis in 20 minutes. Can you do that in a place like Chicago or L.A. or New York? I don’t think so. It was honestly more like a negative implication. It’s more like, a lot of artists that want to be so self -made that they won’t come together on some shit. Like, the Audio Perm shit that was all of us coming together, The Stand4rd shit, that’s all of us coming together.
People forget that when you come together and
work as a team, like a brotherhood or a family or a sisterhood
or whatever, you can go further.
And a lot of people out here, their egos are fucked up. But at the same time it’s a lot of extremely talented motherfuckers. Muja Messiah, he’s like the best rapper in Minnesota.
Spooky Black recently started using his real name, Corbin. Can you comment on his decision behind that?
Bobby: He made that name as a joke. Motherfuckers took that shit really seriously. He didn’t want to be a 40-year-old man have people coming up to him calling him Spooky Black, even though that’s probably already going to happen. I’ve really liked the message behind Spooky Black, that’s why I’ve always advocated for it so hard. I think people get the message extremely fucked up. It’s racy and controversial art, to me, [that] is the best kind. The message behind Spooky Black to me, which I’ve talked to him about is like, society wants you to think a certain way. And the Spooky Black thing, you see it and you’re like, “no, this can’t be real. It’s wrong. That dude shouldn’t be singing like that.” Like, he shouldn’t sound like that, but it does. It’s kind of like telling people, look it doesn’t matter, everybody is a human being. Like, why do you care if he’s wearing a durag? Justin Timberlake wore a durag, Jon Boy wore a durag, Justin Bieber wears durags. Why is it a racial issue? It’s encouraging people to not let the boundaries that society sets up for you damage the way you’re thinking. At the same time it’s paying homage to some really cool shit, like the dope music. His intentions for it was for it to be a joke, like this was some shit he thought was really funny.
It kind of turned into a chance for him to open the eyes of the kids in his generation. And have kids be like, “wait?” Because he’s seeing kids taking OxyContin before they go to school, all they care about is working out and getting blow jobs and they listen to A$AP Rocky, Wiz Khalifa, and Juicy J. It’s like, this kid has a whole different generational perspective on everything. Racism. Just like, fucking morals. And he has a very solid moral constitution, he’s the nicest, humblest kid you’d ever meet, but he’s been flung into this situation. It’s all about the music and that’s why he backed away from it. If he was who people think he is then he would be walking around wearing a durags, but that’s not him. And that’s why he changed his name. Because Corbin is who he really is.
It sounds like it got bigger than he anticipated
Bobby: Man, he’s sixteen. I always think about how extraordinary of a situation it is, he got flung into it. And then you have people wanting to give you millions of dollars. I look up to him. And I also, I look at him like a little brother. I’ll always give him an honest opinion about shit. All I want to do is make the best fucking music we can together.
What is paradise?
Bobby: Paradise? An empty studio. With a blunt and some water [laughs]. I don’t know man, I’m about to be 90 years old sitting on the porch and going downstairs to the basement to sample some shit. It doesn’t take much for me, man.