Photo by Myles Andrews-Duve
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Rucci rarely sleeps. When you are raised around Inglewood’s NeighborHood Pirus by way of your father and witness death at an early age, closing your eyes is an unaffordable luxury. And after experiencing what Rucci did on July 7, 2017, sleep becomes a distant afterthought. That date marks the night Sean Mackk, now an area rap legend of near-mythical stature, was murdered by gunshot on an Inglewood cul de sac at the age of 24. In the years prior, Mackk became family to Rucci and their larger collective known as Bass Squad. He was one part of their rap duo MackkRucci and the driving force behind the Bass Squad’s larger creative vision. He was their Tupac, as Rucci often puts it, an unpredictable but intensely productive force with immense talent and savvy beyond his years.
MackkRucci made the best music to come out of Inglewood in decades. Their songs offered vibrant portrayals of the city, colored by a palette of g-funk and hyphy but reimagined in 4K and brought to life by the duo’s flurrying cadences. It was Mack 10 but on a lot more Molly and infused with the pitbull-channeling ruggedness of DMX.
Mackk and Rucci’s bond remains impenetrable. Mackk may be gone but his spirit never lost, hence why Rucci still talks about him in the present tense. “He gives me motivation on an everyday basis,” Rucci told Noisey in March. “Without him I for sure wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
In the year since Mackk’s murder, Rucci, now 24, has emerged as one of the most promising rappers out of Los Angeles. He can be grouped within the LA rap ecosystem that revolves around R Baron and The Stinc Team but his music is dignified on its own. Rucci credits Boosie as a great influence and his lyrics can resemble the rapper in their blunt, sometimes melancholic honesty (“Doing bad, I miss my uncle and my dad/ Reminiscing on days when I was bickin’ it with Mackk,” he raps on “Your Life”). But more often than not, Rucci’s lyrics channel Boosie’s impassioned bravado (see: literally every line on “Go Rucci”). Rucci delivers it all with vigorous exuberance, making for a blend that resulted in his most refined and anthemic project to date in April’s El Perro.
El Perro follows Dawgystyle as Rucci’s second solo release since Mackk’s passing, but it serves as a more showy introduction. On it, Rucci is sharp and demanding as ever, effortlessly flipping channels between foreboding aggression (“My Way,” “Light It Up”) and sobering introspection (“Wishin on a Star,” “Bodak Rucci”). He professes these songs were made for a live setting and each fit that to varying degrees. They’re raucous and urgent and Rucci’s emotion is palpable to the point where, if you don’t already feel like you’re in the room with him, you eagerly want to be.
Rucci’s urgency makes sense. Just one week after Mackk’s death, Rucci’s blood brother suffered a gunshot to the head and, in the months following, his father was deported back to El Salvador. And as I write this, his cherished uncle, of the moniker P-Funky, is serving a 30-year prison sentence. These experiences make it impossible to avoid the innate paranoia that any ounce of success can be stripped away at any given moment. It’s why Rucci’s response to Mackk’s death wasn’t mourning but yearning—an immediate desire to get in the studio and work.
Since July 7th, 2017, Rucci has spent every dusk through dawn inside The Red Room—a hidden gem of a studio on Rosecrans Ave. just three blocks east of Crenshaw Blvd. where he’s compiled around 400 unreleased songs. I meet him here for our interview on a late Friday night just one week before the anniversary of Mackk’s death. The place is true to its name:Tthe walls are coated in crimson red paint and red neon lighting runs along the ceiling lines. There’s something a bit too fitting about Rucci recording in this space. The enveloping red can be seen as symbolic of his familial ties to Inglewood’s NHP, but more profoundly, it makes for an aura that typifies Rucci’s essence. The color red is foreboding, it relays an uninhibited immediacy, and, in how uncompromising it is at this moment, it’s reflective of Rucci’s sleepless drive to fulfill the legacy of those he’s lost. —Myles Andrews-Duve
How entrenched was your dad in gang life?
Rucci: It’s like to the point where if you ask any gang member like even South Central you ask about Big Taco…my dad was not only deep in it but he was really known everywhere, which has a big impact on me now which is why I really do have love from a lot of people because my dad was respected. And my dad was like one of the first Latinos or El Salvadorians from a Black gang. You feel me?
Was he pushing you away from it?
Rucci: I wouldn’t say that. I always tell everybody that. But they would always let me know right from wrong. Growing up I always seen the craziest shit that a kid could see, from people getting killed and everything, but they always kept me in school, mom always kept me in school, kept me in sports. Put the right thing on my mind, not letting it really fuck me up, but at an early age I was knowledgeable about a lot of shit. I knew right from wrong and loyalty at the age of five, I knew what not to do. I seen them doing all that shit and they would always just be like, “Don’t trip though! You gonna be the good one.”
Rucci: I never even graduated high school and my family be so proud of me ’cause I don’t have no record, I don’t have kids. Like they just so proud, you know? It sucks that’s not regular nowadays.
When did you start rapping?
Rucci: I been rapping since I was a kid bro. My uncle, right now he serving 35 years to life, that was like my best friend growing up. He was a rapper in our section and always kept me in the mix. I used to always go in the studio with him. I was like a little bad motherfucker who used to get on the track and say, “Westside mothafucka!” When I was like six years old I did something on my mom’s house phone, I wrote a rap to myself and it was a voicemail. It was like: “Just leave a message to the dial tone because me and my momma is not at home!” On god.
I started getting good at sports but when I got to high school I got into gangbanging and shit. I was never doing no wild shit though. But I got kicked out of Santa Monica (High School) for doing some crazy shit, then I went to a continuation and that shit did not work out. And at that time my stepdad, my dad, and my uncle was all in jail. So hitting 18 it was only me and my mom.
And your mom is the one who originally pushed you to attend Santa Monica High, right?
Rucci: Yeah but my mom has always been cool as a motherfucker. Like, my mom would send me to Santa Monica with $60 in my pocket everyday. My mom always been cool so even when I wasn’t going to school my mom wasn’t no weirdo about it. My mom always respected my decision. So I just started rapping bro, literally just put the pen to the pad. Been since like 2011.
How is your relationship with your mom now?
Rucci: That’s my best friend. Ask anybody here. How I talk to you? That’s how I talk to my momma. About bitches and all that shit. My momma is my best friend. Like I said, since I was a kid, she let me do whatever I wanted. She never told me, “No,” like my mom so cool, bro. If you meet her you’d be like, ‘What the fuck?’ She cool as a motherfucker. She probably high right now, she be high as a motherfucker too.
It’s like coming up how you did can end up one of two ways: Either your elders push you into the gang life or you move more independently because you don’t have a need to earn the respect.
Rucci: And that’s exactly how it is. Everybody in my section respects me, I’m kind of like an exempt person over there. They don’t want nobody nobody to touch me, you know? But that’s just how I’ve always grown up because my dad has been to jail so much in my life so I’ve always been raised around the homies to the point where they’re like my uncles and shit. So that’s just how it is.
Did you ever struggle identifying with two different cultures growing up with your father being El Salvadorian and mother being Black?
Rucci: My El Salvadorian side, they Black. ‘Cause my dad from a Black hood. My grandma’s house was like the playground for like everybody in the hood. My El Salvadorian family growing up was Black. All my aunties they got babies by Black people, my dad, my uncle it’s the same thing. So you still get that Hispanic vibe, where we eating rice, beans, and tortillas everyday, but the Black people was eating that with us. My name is Juan Carlos Martines Jr. bro [laughs].
I used to hang out with Black people and they’d be like, “you a fake nigga” and shit like that. But I was going home to Black people everyday bro. That’s a big impact now too, like bro, I dropped a song called “El Salvador” not too long ago and that shit went crazy. And I did not wanna do that shit, I don’t even be embracing that side as much because I don’t really like to deal with that shit. But that shit is gonna bring in all the money, bro. That’s what makes your music timeless, is Spanish bro. Hispanics still walk around to this day like, “Bro you heard that Tupac?” [laughs].
That’s part of the appeal of Shoreline Mafia—that racial ambiguity.
Rucci: Yeah that’s why they got such a beautiful thing going right now. I’m telling you bro, you go to they concerts and you think you at fucking Boyz II Men or the Backstreet Boys nigga. Bitches running to the stage. Then they got fans that like me so that shit is even better, I come outside and niggas got red rags and shit, I’m like “Damn!”
It’s funny because as much as you brag in your music you come off pretty humble otherwise.
Rucci: Put it like this: when I do shit with big names like Mustard or something, you won’t never see me post it or something like that. I like holding shit to myself like, “you did that.” When I seen TK and Picaso mentioned my name in the Forbes, shit like that. I’m telling you right now, the average LA rapper gonna post it, go crazy with it. I didn’t even know it was that big, my manager told me but I didn’t even think about it like that. But that’s just how I am, I be so to myself and since a kid growing up I always felt like somebody. So now that I am somebody it’s just kind of regular. I keep it to myself but I be cocky to myself. That’s what keeps me going.
And it comes out in the studio.
Rucci: Yeah, exactly. I don’t say shit, I don’t voice shit unless it’s on the track.
When did you start hitting the studio every day?
Rucci: Like 2012, 2013. I been fucking with Scott (founder of The Red Room) since like 2013 or 2014. I been coming to Red Room since it first started and that was like 2013.
How many songs are you finishing in one night?
Rucci: However many I put my mind to. Sometimes I be lazy and I do like three or something, but in one session I can knock out like six core songs.
Are you having beats made as you go or are they already prepared?
Rucci: Beats already prepared. People in my email be full of beats. I really fuck with under the water niggas. Like I got this nigga named Romo, he did “Wishin on a Star,” he’s like 20. I really fuck with people who a lot of people don’t fuck with. A lot of people can make beats bro, you just gotta tell them what you want. It ain’t hard for these beatmakers to make beats. That’s how I be thinking.
It reminds me of a beat Greedo would use.
Rucci: Yeah, see, I love shit like that. I was just talking to Greedo before he went in. We never got to do no music together because we both not the type to be like, “Ay we gonna work, imma hit you we gonna work,” it’s more natural. But he was telling me, ‘You just got to do what you wanna do, you can’t listen to what nobody else say.’ Greedo really motivated me like a motherfucker.
Did his work ethic rub off on you too?
Rucci: For sure. Seeing him do the shit that he do, it makes me wanna go hard. That’s the type of shit we need on the West Coast anyways. Like, where I’m from [Inglewood], my city, they hate Drakeo. My whole city do not like Drakeo, it’s the gangbanging shit, you know what I’m saying? Me and Drakeo have always had a level of respect. Like, I Am Mr. Mosley 2, I recorded that whole shit in my last studio.
He has more than a few features on MackkRucci too.
Rucci: Exactly. Yeah, like, we don’t even talk but we got the respect for each other to where it’s like, when you see somebody doing they shit, you just gotta go harder. That’s the kind of motivation everybody need on the West Coast.
I would say that’s what makes this current LA scene so unique is that you have that collective mentality and it’s like everyone seems to be extensions of one another.
Rucci: That’s another thing. Like, I love Shoreline Mafia, I love that whole little wave but I don’t just put myself in that wave. I feel like my music is a different type of street music than theirs. Like, we talk about the same shit but it’s obvious that we lived a different lifestyle growing up.
Like, I really do be with Bloods everywhere I go, and with Shoreline it’s dope how them niggas have like a thousand motherfuckers with em. I can’t do shit like that. I only can have like 10 Bloods with me, ‘cause my people don’t have no mind, like they don’t think how Shoreline motherfuckers think. Them motherfuckers think about that guap and everyone around them be about that money, whereas I got some knuckleheads that just want to be in the scene.
Does that create some obstacles for you trying to come up?
Rucci: Me blowing up is kind of harder than theirs because they got some people around them who understand. Like if I did a song with Drakeo my niggas would be so mad, like I’d probably have to fight 50 people, you know what I’m saying? So like, how Shoreline got it right now? I think they got it right now over everybody. ‘Cause I ain’t never seen some shit like that. I been to like five of their shows they let me open up for, motherfuckers just run onto the stage.
And the stage be packed.
Rucci: Motherfuckers falling out bro. Oh my god. And on everything, I love I gained so many fucking fans from just opening up for them. I don’t even care how big I get, I will forever do that shit. Like, I go on the road with them niggas just ’cause I love performing. Even now I don’t care about the money because I been moving by myself this whole time. All these labels now, if you ain’t got that buzz like to where little kids wanna shoot somebody or stuff like that, they not fucking with you [laughs].
And you say you’re not there yet?
Rucci: I don’t feel like I’m there, I don’t feel like I’m that. I don’t feel like everywhere I go somebody know me. That’s why I be moving different.
Do you register that you’re a part of a big, historic movement in LA rap right now?
Rucci: Hell yeah, for sure. Because I do shit with everybody that’s got a wave right now, everyone’s connected in some type of way. So it’s not like I don’t fuck with what’s going on, it’s just that I feel like I got my own little shit. But I really enjoy the shit that’s going on though, to the point where it motivates me. It’s just harder for me to do a lot more shit than what everybody can do right now. Like 1TakeJay he fuck with Bloods, Crips, and his shit go up because he can do all that shit. It’s fucked up for me because I gotta move way different. And it’s okay though because I gotta stay alive.
Your energy on stage is ridiculous. First time I saw you was at that Hurricane Harvey benefit show last summer.
Rucci: I love performing. I’mma keep it 100 with you. That was one of my first shows, and I was like, ‘Damn, they fucking with me.’
Has your mom seen you perform?
Rucci: Hell yeah. She come to my Rucci Lives. My mom really started taking my shit serious like probably two years ago. My mom used to always think I was lying to her when I asked for money to go to the studio [laughs]. She used to be like, “What you using my money for?” ‘Cause I was always scared to show her my music.
Because of the content?
Rucci: Yeah, the content. But yeah, my mom probably the closest person to me, she don’t be tripping off shit. When you feel like you’ve got your momma’s support and she understand what you doing, that’s a big thing.
It’s funny because your off-stage energy at this moment is totally different. So what changes for you when you go on stage?
Rucci: Shit, I ain’t even drunk nothing yet to be honest. I be drunk bro. And not even that. When I make music, I make it as if I’m performing, like, if you look at my YouTube history, it’s all live performances. That’s all I watch. From Snoop Dogg to like…nigga I be watching Sade live. I just love live performances bro. My dream is to have something up on YouTube like, “Rucci Live Performance in Baton Rouge,” you know what I’m saying? Something big like that. Like, I love performing bro. “Light It Up?” That was a straight performance song. If you ask everybody around me, we do rehearsals type shit.
I feel like a lot of rappers don’t rehearse.
Rucci: No, bro. And I’ll tell you another thing. We probably the only people right now who throw our own shows. I do Rucci Lives every month damn near. We throw our own shows. Like July 8, we got the Sean Mackk Forever show. Like everything we do is by ourselves bro. We rehearse a lot.
What do you go over in rehearsal?
Rucci: When I rehearse I literally just go on stage and bullshit. I just like saying I did it because I feel like it’s natural. My little brother be on stage with me, he be off pills and all kind of shit, he know every word but he do not wanna touch a mic. If you ask him, he do not wanna touch a mic, he just wanna be on stage.
What do you think it is about live performance that draws you in?
Rucci: The crowd, bro. When they say, “Go Rucci!,” that shit like [pauses]…I don’t know. Imagine a thousand people, bitches and niggas, like, “Go Myles!,” it’s like, damn. I kind of think like even the whole music thing, it’s the fans bro. They make your music timeless, they make you give it your best, like, ever since I been having fans they motivate me on another level.
It ain’t nothing like someone DM’ing you and telling you you got them through some hard situations. That shit touch me. When I be making music I be like, ‘Damn, if I’m touching people when they hear it through their ears, imagine what they gonna feel when they come see me live.’ It’s really the fans to be honest, that’s what drives me. I really wanna do festivals bro.
It would be an entirely different energy.
Rucci: It could be more timeless. Like DMX: His music is festival music. When you play his shit at a festival, everybody going crazy. Waka Flocka: “Hard In The Paint” is crazy at festivals. I don’t think I’m ever gonna be the one to fall off. I’m going to be able to go in different lanes and people will still love me, that’s how I feel about my music. Because I really love music, that’s all I think about, is music.
What lanes could you see yourself going in?
Rucci: [pauses]…Country. Didn’t fucking Nelly do some country shit? Shit like that. I could do that R&B shit.
Snoop just did a gospel album.
Rucci: Yeah, I wanna be a West Coast nigga like Snoop. Like, that’s forever gonna be loved. I don’t never see myself falling off bro. And I feel like I got so much music. Like “Go Rucci” was a year-and-a-half old before I dropped it. So I want the timeless music.
When did you start becoming a Boosie fan?
Rucci: High school. No, before high school. My step dad used to listen to him all the time and I used to listen to him in the car when they used to put out they mixtapes and shit. It’s just that southern shit. Before that, my favorite group of all time was Bone Thugs. Growing up, my mom would always let me be who I wanted to be. I was three years old with the fro talking about Bone Thugs and Suga Free [laughs]. And then when I hit seventh grade and really started feeling me thinking I’m a gangster and shit like that: Boosie and Webbie. Them niggas be talking to you.
What about their music attracted you?
Rucci: It was that G shit. Boosie came out with Streetz is Mine—shit like that where I could be a gangster and still be fly at the same time, that’s how I was just feeling at that time. And they was doing shit that I could see myself doing! Like, Boosie never boxed his shit in, Boosie was doing dumbass love songs—”Lil Boosie Love” shit like that—them niggas had so much confidence in what they was doing. That shit was so dope to me bro.
There’s an honesty to what Boosie does.
Holiday [from Bass Squad]: Boosie say he got five kids and he cheating on his baby mama but still love her.
Rucci: People ask me to this day, “How you wanna live your life?” Nigga, I want five baby mamas, that’s how I wanna live my life. I be cooling but I’m like the ratchet nigga nowadays…But yeah, Boosie and Webbie, big ass influences bro. I wouldn’t leave like Snoop Dogg, Pac, or Mack 10 out ’cause I was listening to all that shit. But I wanted to be bigger than the West Coast. Young Jeezy too, bro. Wiz Khalifa nigga, that was like a big swag change for me and I was with the swag change.
You’ve experienced a lot of loss recently. How have you channeled that through your music?
Rucci: Nigga, when I lost Sean Mackk I was gassed up. You gotta know Sean Mackk though, like Sean Mackk is crazy bro, you gotta really move how he move. He’ll wake up and be like, he want this done and he really expect you to get it done. And when he expect you to do something he put his foot on the gas.
So when niggas lost Sean Mackk, yeah, we cried, but all we hear is him. And a week after I lost Sean Mackk my brother got shot in his head, so it was just back to back for me. I ain’t never really experience nothing like that, bro. That shit matured me like a motherfucker. I feel like I’ve been different since then.