One positive thing about the de-centralization of rap is that it’s allowed for each streaming system to help mint their own stars. Soundcloud favors artists who mistook Space Ghost Purrp for the Velvet Underground (when the correct answer was Tommy Wright III). Twitter favors acerbic natural comedians like Vince Staples and Mike Eagle. The corporate streaming networks are a random gumbo of whoever the majors are pushing this week and the particular idiosyncrasies of the people who curate boutique playlists. All praise due to the hidden hands who made Jordan Raf and Chester Watson pop on the Spotify dark web that I can’t even find. You are the realest of ones and I am forever indebted to cripple at least three of your rivals Tonya Harding-style. You know where to find me.
As for YouTube, it remains my favorite streaming network, the best place where street rappers can crack without commercial compromise, dying their hair like the world’s corniest popsicles, or major label cheat codes. Hence, RJ, who has been a legitimate star in the LA streets and YouTube for almost a half-decade without ever receiving the proper national due he deserves. It’s not hard to understand why. We’ve been covering him since 2014 and by this point there’s not much to say other than that he is as consistent as Chris Paul and about as interesting to write about.
There is no broader narrative. He’s still the only rapper I’ve seen show up to an interview with a book in his back pocket — let alone Dickens — but it doesn’t necessarily translate to talking points. His music is much smarter than a generic gangsta rapper, but it lacks a catchy marketing hook or angle. It’s just excellent in the way that a good hamburger is. It’s easy to take for granted but always effective. That’s why I appreciate why he reached out to Memphis’ Blacc Youngsta, who occupies a similar space in Tennessee as RJ does here. They’re immensely popular regional legends, but figure to get overlooked until they land a novelty hit or truly weird viral video. Let’s call it Down in the DM syndrome. Either way, as he says on “Blammer,” he’s still on Spotify with platinum songs.
If you’re one of those people who likes excellent street rap with moonwalk slick cadences, hooks with sharp talons, and the feeling of music firmly rooted in a place and time, there are few better than RJ. If he’s destined to be overshadowed by his label boss YG, that’s a damn shame because he’s a unique artist in his own right who has six hits for every false narrative that somehow works for other artists. His Mr. LA tape is one of the best of the year. It has YG, Ty Dolla Sign, Quavo, and beats from Mustard and DJ Swish. It just goes super hard, but there just isn’t all that much else to say about it. Gangstas are supposed to move in silence anyway.