American Splendor: An Interview with MMG’s Red Pill

The Michigan rapper talks Louie, Juggalo's, working at a machine shop, and more.
By    April 22, 2015

Red Pill

Beers, Bukowski, and bars. Passing out while watching Louie. Hangovers and Harvey Pekar.  This is how depression, denial and acceptance manifest. This is life for the 27-year-old Michigan native born Chris Orrick. Don’t kill his vibe. He’s getting his shit together.

After long post-grad years spent working menial day jobs and rapping part-time, Orrick AKA Red Pill has arrived. Following an LP as one-third of rap group Ugly Heroes, he inked a deal with indie rap nonesuch Mello Music Group. This month he released his MMG debut, Look What This World Did to Us.

It’s a dark record that might require a predisposition to depression to access, but it’s all the better for it. The rhymes are as assured as they are emotive, the product of a lifetime of frustration and over a decade of writing/recording.  The animus is pointed at a still fractured economy, the eternally broken promise of the American Dream. Early Atmosphere is the obvious analogue. You hear it in the whiskey-soaked sincerity and self-deprecation, the blue collar blues written in cigarette butts. The broken relationships have been traded for the one he’s held down since high school, but the beats bump with booms, baps, and jazz. Next to Mike Eagle’s Dark Comedy, it’s my favorite MMG release. It might be one of the best rap albums of year.

About a week ago, I caught up with Orrick over the phone while he made the proverbial New York press rounds. We talked about music, movies, books, and Juggalos. Depending on who you ask, they might be the things that make the world worth it. – Max Bell

Are you enjoying New York?

Red Pill: Yeah, I am. It’s really my first time out here. I was out here for something small awhile ago, but this is really my first time here. It’s been dope.

Do you feel like you’re living an episode of Louie more than you ever have before?

RP: Yeah. (laughs). It’s all starting to make sense now.

What is it about Louie that you enjoy? Do you like Louis C.K.’s stand-up?

RP: He takes little observations from life that most of recognize and know but don’t take the time to write down. There’s that bit that he does where he talks about standing at the post office and what’s happening in line—I’m not going to go through it because I’ll tell it terribly. It’s like these small, insignificant things that people see and are annoyed by in their life and he picks them out and finds a way to make them funny. That’s the genius of it.

You’re from Ferndale.

RP: Yeah, I’m from Ferndale. It’s right on the border of Detroit.

What’s it like there? How does it differ from Detroit? Or is it the same?

RP: The way that it is in Detroit, it’s one of the most segregated areas in the country. I actually only live a few blocks from 8 Mile. That’s the dividing line that Eminem made famous. There’s the city, which is mostly black people, and the suburbs, which is mostly white people. Ferndale is not the same at all. But it’s sort of like Williamsburg or something like that. There’s not nearly as many people and there’s not nearly as much going on. It’s kind of an in between a richer neighborhood and the poorer side of Detroit.

This next one is a very serious journalistic question. Have you ever met a Juggalo?

RP: (Laughs) I have met Juggalos. When I was in high school there were these two Juggalo kids that rapped and tried to diss me. They’d Photoshop pictures of my face on naked women’s bodies and spread them around. They were strange people. It’s pretty rampant in the area because ICP is from there.

Do you ever see Juggalos walking around town?

RP: I can’t say that I’ve seen people out in the full makeup, but you see ICP car decals all over. Everywhere.

Have you ever been to the Gathering?

RP: I haven’t, but I heard it’s crazy. As far as I remember, they’ve had some decent acts come through. But I don’t know. I feel like it might not be my scene.

What are some of your favorite hip-hop memories from your childhood?

RP: Probably some of the earliest stuff is that my friends and I would watch MTV Jams in the morning. This was before it had its own station. This was in elementary school. We’d go to school and be like, “Holy shit, did you see the new Ja Rule video?” or whatever was going on at the time and try to figure out who connected to who. That was the earliest childhood stuff. And going to concerts. I was always really excited to see local acts. In Detroit we have a bunch of people that come out of the city that are respected but we don’t always get the bigger concerts. So just going to concerts in high school and getting to be a fan. It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to do that.

Who was the first rapper that made you want to rap?

RP: I remember watching Snoop Dogg when I was really young. He was one of the first dudes that I thought was really amazing. And I remember getting Doggystyle and thinking that was the coolest, most inappropriate shit ever. When Eminem came out, that changed everything. White kids from Detroit were all kind of into it. Everybody was into it, but that really put Detroit on the map in a new way. That was an exciting time for sure.

What’s your favorite installment of The Matrix?

RP: The first one. The second one was terrible and the third one was alright. I know people online that say the Wachowski brothers stole the script for the first one. I kind of buy into that because it was so different than the other two in that it was actually good.

Were there any other rap names before Red Pill?

RP: Yeah. I was Two-Face when I was in high school. I guess Red Pill was an upgrade. That was an interesting time. That was when I was 15 or 16. Then I just stopped having a rap name and went by my regular name, Chris Orrick. Then I ended up settling on Red Pill for a lack of creativity in coming up with names.

Did you ever release any music under those names?

RP: Yeah. I hope it’s been destroyed from the Internet. I released things early. I would use this four-track tape recorder. I had this $15 mic and I’d point it a speaker, play a beat, record that to track one and then record my verses on track two, the hook on track three, and doubles on track four. I had this setup where I could turn it in to something digital and put it on CDs. I did artwork on printer paper and tried to sell them at school. But it was interesting. I do hope that they’re gone, but I’m sure they’ll embarrass me when they do come out.

You went to Michigan State. First, how do you feel about their tourney run? Second, what did you major in? Why?

RP: Their tourney run was great. They got their asses beat by Duke, but this was a team that nobody thought was going to do anything. Last year’s team wasn’t picked to win at all and they got knocked out early. This year’s team did good. I was a little shocked at how much Duke destroyed us, but they did a good job.


I majored in political science. My first year I went to Eastern Michigan University and I had a professor who taught intro to government and he was one of the most inspiring people. He cared so much and had such a passion for teaching politics and government. I listened to more political music as I was growing up and I was like, “This makes sense.” Maybe I could teach or be a professor. So I ended up sticking with it when I transferred to Michigan State. But I realized a little too late that I didn’t have the passion for it that I thought I had. But I’ve always been in interested in government and systems of government and how politics affects everyday people’s lives.

You ended up working at a machine shop after college. What did you do there? Did you ever feel like destroying every copy of 8 Mile on the planet?

RP: We worked on axle parts. It was the most monotonous and awful work. You put the part in, it runs for a minute, you stand there, and then you do that 500 times a day. You check that the parts are being cut right and everything. It was the worst job I’ve ever had. And I worked at McDonald’s and all the other shit that sounds terrible, but this was so fucking boring. Yes, I should’ve destroyed every copy of 8 Mile. I was not working at New Detroit stamping, but it felt like it. I still get shit for it.

Did you record Dream Within a Dream and The Kick while working there?

RP: Part of it I did. Dream Within a Dream was while I was at Michigan State. Most of The Kick was made before I graduated. But I got out of school and my dad had cataracts. So I started helping him. He runs a small business where he delivers to local diners in the city. I had to go help him and I was making like $70 or $80 a week helping him. It was terrible. I was making no money and then I was just like, “I have to find something.” Then I ended up at that machine shop and life was just getting in the way of the music. My goal was to get out of school and focus on music full time. I had this plan that it was only supposed to be for three months and then it ended up being three and a half years. So we didn’t put out The Kick until 2013. It was like three or four years of working on that project. I was just getting sick of it by the end of it and wanted to get it out. I also knew that I had Ugly Heroes coming out right after it. It was just like, “I need to get this done.”

How do you feel about those projects now?

RP: I still think that The Kick is the point where—there’s things about it that I don’t like. I wrote it mostly when I was younger. I wasn’t the Nas prodigy kind of rapper. I’ve had a lot to work on and a lot to learn to get to where I am. But I think that The Kick was the first record where I was doing something that might have potential and that I could make something out of, which is dope. But I think every rapper can look back and say that some songs were fucking garbage and some had potential. We tried. The producer on it was Hir-O, who is a friend of mine. I think he’s one of the most talented producers coming up right now. If there was a weaker link, it was definitely me on that project (laughs).

Completely unrelated, how many times have you seen Inception?

RP: I watched it probably 20 or 30 times while I was making that record. In my head I wanted it to be really conceptual and all this shit that was just nonsense in the end. I wanted to have different layers to it and pull different pieces out of the movie, so I was watching it and studying it, taking notes, trying to find way to incorporate things that maybe people hadn’t figured out. So yeah, I’ve seen it a shit ton of times.

What’s Blat Pack?

RP: Blat Pack is when I was at Michigan State. It was the first kind of collective of real hip-hop musicians that I had worked with. I lived right outside of Detroit as a kid, until I was about 13. Long story short, my family got evicted and then ended up moving to Howell, Michigan, which is actually like 45 minutes west of Detroit. It’s basically the country.

Do you know Bones? He’s from Howell.

RP: It’s weird. We went to the same high school. I remember reading an article about him and being like, “What the fuck?” Somebody hit me up like, “Do you know this kid?” And I was like, “No, I don’t know him.” I think he’s four or five years younger than me. We must’ve just missed each other. But people know [Howell] as the KKK capital of Michigan. When I was there no one really rapped outside of me, and I guess him. There were punk bands and ska bands and screamo bands when all of that shit was popular. Then when I went to Michigan State I found a hip-hop scene in Lansing, Michigan, a major city right near MSU. That was the Blat Pack. They were a couple of dudes named James Gardin and Jahshua Smith. It was a collective of friends that made music. There were a couple singers and producers and DJs.

How did you meet Apollo Brown?

RP: The scene here is pretty small. You can run into just about anybody depending upon what event you’re going to. If Black Milk is coming into town, you’re going to be able to see people. The scene is small enough that you kind of connect with them. I was judging a beat battle in Michigan and Apollo was one of the judges. This was before I was anybody. This was 2009. He didn’t pay any attention to me. I had this project that I gave to him and then I met him a few months later at a mutual friend’s going away party. We talked a little bit more and I got his number, but nothing really came of it. Then one day I was at the plant and I got a call. I called him on my lunch break and he was like, “I got this track. I need it back in three or four days.” It was a Mello Music Group compilation project that they were putting out for SXSW. I did the track and sent it back and he was really impressed. Then he called me a few days later and was like, “I might have something bigger.” He called me a week later and offered the Ugly Heroes project to me. I guess how he found out about me was the he knew me but didn’t pay any attention. Then somebody sent him a random music video that I shot in the middle of the night after a show that we just threw online. I guess Apollo saw it and fucked with it.

What’s your relationship like?

RP: It’s good. I actually had a show in Detroit a couple weeks ago that he came out to. We talk every once in awhile. He’s a good friend of mine. I look up to him as an older brother. Everyone seems to have that person, whether it’s an industry person or a manager or another artist who kind of helps them take that next step up, and he was the one that did it for me. I owe him everything. You never know what will happen with your life and if you’re going to end up doing shit without other people, but he’s the one that did it for me.

How did you feel about the reception of Ugly Heroes?

RP: I thought it was good. I think that people were really cautious because he’d just come off of doing Trophies with OC and Dice Game with Guilty Simpson. He was on a big roll and then works with Red Pill, who’s totally unknown, and Verbal Kent, who’s got a little bit of a name but is virtually unknown. I think his fans were kind of like, “Corny white guys. Why are you doing this? Why are you working with these dudes?” But I thought it was good. His fans really liked it and I’m proud of it. For people who like the dreary, dark sound that we put into it, I think it was important.

Your work with Apollo Brown is what led to you signing with MMG, right?

RP: Yes. We actually shopped The Kick to Mello and they didn’t want it. But we got the [Ugly Heroes] record done and a couple months before it came out Mello asked me to sign a deal with them.

How did you feel about signing with MMG? Were you a big fan of the label?

RP: It was huge for me. I was a fan of the label before I knew any of them. I think the first shit I heard from them was from Apollo, then I heard Diamond District, and then yU’s project, Before Taxes. I don’t only listen to that style of music. I’m not only into just boom-bap and that sound. But there’s something I absolutely relate to with the rhymes. Getting to work with them has been incredible. I look at Mello in this long line of labels like Def Jux, Rawkus, Anticon, and Stones Throw. I think that Mello is becoming that next big indie hip-hop powerhouse. I’m excited to be a part of it.

How long did you work on Look What This World Did To Us?

RP: Some of this shit is pretty old. I’ve been working on it since way back in 2012. I think that when I really got around to putting it together where it was really going to be something that I knew was going to be a record was probably December of 2013. Then I finished the writing process in May of 2014. So about five or six months to get it right where I wanted it. I recorded it that summer and then mixed and mastered it that fall of 2014. It took awhile to get everything done. Part of that is because we knew we wanted to put it out in 2015. It started to make sense more and more. I knew I had almost a year to kind of make things happen and time to craft it and think about it and make sure that I was what I wanted.

What was the biggest challenge when you were writing/recording?

RP: The biggest challenge early on was getting anybody to want to work with me for beats. I don’t have this really cool thing. It’s not me. I’m not somebody with an over the top personality who is going to jump right out at you. I think I’m kind of like a sleeper in that sense. It takes a little time to get on to me and understand what I’m doing. So trying to reach out to people for beats was damn near impossible. They either didn’t respond or passed on me. It’s crazy. I guess I respect them in one way, but it’s not like we weren’t offering money. I think that was the biggest challenge. To me, what ended up making it good was that I got to work with a few people from Mello that I do really respect and are my friends. To be able to put it together like that as a first record is kind of fitting.

Do you think it’s a depressing record?

RP: I think so. I think that everybody that comes across it probably feels a little gross, a little down for the day after hearing it. This is like a movie that doesn’t have a happy ending. That can be interesting every once in awhile. I don’t want to watch it every time, but in some cases that’s what it ends up being and some things don’t end up great. At the same time, I think a lot of the response that I’m getting from the record is from people who have been through similar things and are saying that it’s helping them through it and making them feel better about that. That’s kind of what I got from music early on as a kid, just knowing that other people were going through things that I was going through. To be able to give that back to people is important to me.

Do you use music to deal with your depression?

RP: Yeah. I have since I was a kid. That was the thing that drove my music, wanting to write about what was going on in my life, where I was, and issues with my mother being an alcoholic and not having a lot of money in the house and shit like that. Just normal shit that people go through, but it was my way of getting out of it. My way of trying to sort it all out in my head was by writing songs about it. So I’ve been doing that for damn near fifteen years, just writing everything out and getting it out.

Are you happy with the record now? Do you feel like it’s been well received?

RP: I do. I think it’s a slow burner. We’ve gotten good support from the people that have heard it. People that I think can understand it critically really like it. And I have a small group of fans that are really into it. That’s what’s important to me. We’re not expecting to come out and sell 50,000 records. We know it’s going to be a slow process of getting the sales behind it. But the more important shit to me is that we’re making something of it and building a core fan base. I really haven’t heard much bad about it. There are going to be people that don’t like everything, but I’m happy with the support so far. I like the record. It was not the record that I thought I was going to make when I started it, but it turned out to be something that I’m proud of.

How did it change from what you’d intended?

RP: It just kind of grew on its own. I don’t think I really knew where it was going to go. When I got done with making Ugly Heroes I think somebody was like, “Are you even capable of writing a happy song?” I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try it.” Then the next album I was going to make was going to be called Happy and a little more upbeat. Clearly that’s not what this record ended up turning into. It turned into the complete opposite, even darker than what I had done before.

How does it feel to not work a day job?

RP: I actually still have a part time job. I work a few days a week for my dad. Like I said, he has a one man and truck deal and he does little stops for restaurants. He just delivers in the city. I make a little bit here, but for the most part I’m doing well. Mello helps out. I’m making more money than I was at the plant. I guess I can say that. I only work a couple days a week and I have most of my time to put towards music. It’s good man. A 9-5 is terrible. I don’t know anybody who enjoys it. I’m sure there are people who like their jobs, but it’s not for me.

Has making music affected any personal relationships?

RP: No. I really don’t think so. I think that people that start to get a name go through this all the time—people from your past start popping up. You haven’t seen them in five years. You might’ve done a track with them and now they’re hitting you up trying to put you on a song. But outside of that? No. I got my girlfriend. Even though there was a lot of things on the rercord of me dealing with problems that affected our relationship, it was never to the point that we actually broke up or anything. She’s supportive as hell. I’ve been with her since I was in high school. I’ve been with her for ten years. She’s been by my side through everything. She has always been supportive of the music. She doesn’t give me shit. We don’t make a lot of money and she doesn’t give me shit for it, even though we’re getting a little older and I probably should start making something. With my family, I got good brothers and my dad is supportive. There’s really nobody that there has been an issue with other than rappers and producers.

How do you feel about Slug comparisons?

RP: I don’t mind them. I would be a liar if I said that he didn’t influence me. Sometimes it’s flattering. To me it’s flattering… I’m twenty-seven. I was listening to Slug fifteen years ago. I grew up on this dude when I was a kid. I guess in the grand scheme we’re peers, but I don’t see myself as a peer of his. To be influenced by somebody, I don’t think it’s an issue. And in a way it’s flattering. I look up to him. What he and Rhymesayers did in underground hip-hop is kind of unparalleled.

When and how did you discover Bukowski? What was it about his work that resonated with you?

RP: He’d always been somebody on my list of people that I wanted to check out. I think it happened about three years ago that I actually really started to give him a shot. I’ll be honest, I kind of had this feeling about Bukowski like, “Everybody likes him. He’s somebody that hipsters jerk off to.” But when I got into him it really started to hit me. It was like, “This guy is one of the greatest writers of the last fifty years.” When I really got into his writing I started to relate to it a lot and saw a lot of myself in what he was saying.

Do you have a favorite Bukowski novel or book of poetry?

RP: The novel would either be Post Office or Ham on Rye. What he ends up doing is a lot like what I do—these snapshots of his life. They’re not always these big overarching stories with a clear start and clear finish. It’s just like these moments of his life. So all of them are interesting. But I think Post Office is going to be my favorite because I related so much with him talking about the job and drinking and having to wake up hung over. Those types of things really resonated with me when I was at plant.

Who else do you like to read?

RP: Definitely Hemingway. Raymond Carver was somebody that I always thought was incredible and had really interesting takes on life and love. I read, but I’m definitely in a lull right now.

Do you read American Splendor?

RP: Yeah. A friend of mine put me on to Harvey Pekar and he sent me a couple digital copies of the comic. I actually got into Harvey Pekar when I was making my record.

What’s next for Red Pill? Are you going on tour? Are you in the process of making another record?

RP: Hopefully all of that. What I’m doing right now is working on an EP. It will be coming out in the fall. That’s going to be through Mello. There will be another full-length solo next year. And then as far as Ugly Heroes, we’ve been talking about it. It’s just a matter of finding the right time. Everybody wants to do it. And then with touring I’m hopefully going back to Europe in the fall. We’re working out domestic touring as we speak, trying to figure out what’s possible and how we can do it.

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