“I Came From Being a Badass to a Public Speaker in my Neighborhood:” An Interview with Rahli

Brendan Verrastro speaks with the rising St. Louis rapper and label chief about moving to Atlanta, why his hometown isn't yet regarded as a hip-hop hotbed, and more.
By    November 19, 2020

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Like most large cities in the U.S., there is a stark duality to St. Louis. On one end is the comfortable, luxurious side of the Lou, with dull modernist million-dollar AirBnBs sitting in the shadow of the towering Gateway Arch. Then there’s the part of the city that reflects the one in five people in the greater St. Louis area who live in poverty. Though hard to define it as a single part since it stretches through many zip codes, these areas account for the number of homicides soaring to the second highest level of the decade in 2019. It’s also where one of the biggest moments of civil unrest in American history happened — just six years ago in Ferguson due to the police murder of Michael Brown. 

In a city that’s 67% black, 50 out of 53 cops in Ferguson were white at the time. Drive 5 minutes from the center of Ferguson and you’ll reach a small block, encompassing two city streets called Lorna Lane. In a place with such a bleak outlook for Black people, the block that raised the rapper Rahli is presented by the man as a place of hope, one where his dreams to better his situation started to come to fruition.

Though Lorna Lane spurred his hopes and dreams, the mental burden of living in a city plagued by so much violence has taken its toll on the burgeoning rapper. As he’s gained popularity, he’s began to devise plans to move to Atlanta, one of the epicenters of the rap world, where Rahli can better position himself and the artists on his label, Rent Due Entertainment. The St. Louis rap scene hasn’t organically gained much traction outside of the city, and bringing that scene to a place where exposure is easier to come by, where collabs are easier to make happen, could help popularize the STL hustle in their raps. While Rahli knows it’s for the best, the thought of the transition is still tough for him, as his connection to his city runs through his veins. He’s forever tied to the life-changing moments he’s experienced there, having seen both his mother and one of his best friends Lil Jerry pass away in the city.

And though he’ll surely keep those memories and experiences close to his heart, he knows the move to Black Hollywood is the best thing he can do for himself, his family, and his city.

While the historical focus of the rap world has been in New York and Los Angeles, you wouldn’t know it from speaking with Rahli. He grew up in love with Southern hip-hop like New Orleans’ Lil Wayne and the Hot Boys as well as the guys from his own city like Nelly and Huey. And while he takes bits and pieces from each of those regions and styles in his music, his voice is the real selling point. He gives you anger and hunger, recounting his days of being a Rollin 60 from the Midwest. It’s capped off with a lisp that resembles Young Thug’s infamous “Harambe voice.” Rahli can turn the switch on and off though, balancing that nasty snarl with sweet, angelic harmonies about things like his mother’s passing or a woman he’s fawning over. 

Rahli’s first taste of musical attention came from his 2015 single “Born Bae Bae,” a purely local success. The video shows him pouring out D’usse and dancing with all of Lorna Lane. His raspy flow surely soundtracked quite a few block parties in St. Louis that summer. Fast forward four years to his debut project, Dellwood Market, and the celebratory feeling from his initial single that was all but replaced by a brooding list of war stories. In recounting all of the stories of lost friends and family members to violence of both the streets and the carceral state, his trauma felt much more visceral on the 2019 project.

The single “Perc 30” shows off the vitriol from having been through some shit. The slurring mess that he spits on his verse calls to mind imagery of an exorcism, and it sounds like a demon has taken full control of him. The repetitive hook “Snoozing like he on Perc 30” with the haunting background vocals keeps you in a constant state of fear, like you’ve woken up in Alcatraz and can’t get out. His harmonies on “Ooh Child” show a little of his softer side, serenading the trenches of Lorna Lane, as he prays to make it out with his bible and pistol. 

On Rahli’s latest project Still Big Rallo From Lorna, he’s come a long way from the trenches, but recognizes they are indelibly etched into who he is. He’s still Big Rallo from Lorna, but this album shows off a more focused approach to his story-telling and a more mainstream appeal with cleaner production and bigger features. He pulls in Memphis phenom Duke Deuce for the “Perc 30” remix, who follows up Rahli’s slurring raspiness with a more kill in silence approach, rapping like he needs you to keep it a secret that he has so many globes in his mansion. Duke brings the same demonic energy as Rahli with bars like “spirits in me, I been drinking on demons.”

Rahli beautifully harmonizes with Quando Rondo on “Solidified,” each performing a painful, bluesy verse about their traumas stemming from losing loved ones. Mozzy’s gritty energy is a perfect complement to Rahli’s snarl on “U Never Knew,” as he raps about staying true to himself through success. The album’s features help highlight the hostility that Rahli feels creeping into his mind, and he’s finding new ways to highlight those thoughts, adding extra layers to his expressions of pain and playing around with vocal inflections like a scientist concocting new formulas.

Lorna Lane is where he learned how to rap and focus his story-telling, ride a bicycle or do anything else a young kid does. With a little fame in his back pocket now, he knows that anything he does is a reflection on his community, so he has to keep moving smart and making the right decisions. And he wants to make sure that anyone from similar circumstances, from proverbial Lorna Lanes across the country know that they can make it too.

Two months ago, after the release of Still Big Rallo from Lorna, I sat down to speak with Rahli about what exactly “Rent Due” is about, his perception of St. Louis, the one-hit wonders of his city, and what making it out of the city means to him. — Brendan Verrastro

I want to ask right off the bat — I saw on Instagram that you’re having a signing and leaving party. What moves are you making?

Rahli: My whole RD [Rent Due] movement is about to take off, I’m about to relocate with my old hometown. Just want to kick it with my city one more time. I got a lot of work to do though.

Where is this move happening at?

Rahli: Down south man, Atlanta that’s my backyard.

Wow, that’s dope. Why the move to Atlanta and why is it considered your backyard?

Rahli: Well I don’t know how many people know but there’s a LOT of St. Louis natives who moved to Atlanta to get certain businesses and careers going because the love is genuine. I found this out for myself as well. It’s like I can come to Atlanta and get the same St. Louis feel minus the bullshit, senseless killings, hate. I get so much love & southern hospitality every time I’m there, definitely a place I can call home. On top of that it’s just all-around good for the music scene especially how I’m coming.

Okay, okay congrats on that. Now have you lived in St. Louis your whole life?

Rahli: Yeah, I lived in Atlanta for like six months. I went to school out there when I was nineteen at AIU. Then I moved back out there in late 2018, went back out there for like a year. I handled my business out there and now I gotta go handle my business back out in Black Hollywood as they call Atlanta.

What part of STL were you from?

Rahli: Man I stayed all throughout the city, but I’m from North County. I’m a St. Louis baby.

When you were living in St. Louis what albums were you listening to on a consistent basis?

Rahli: Well I was outside too much, and I ain’t really have a father figure to get me tuned into hip-hop. I had a big cousin that put me onto old Lil Wayne and the Hot Boys when I was younger. But when I was living with my momma and grandma, they would listen to a lot of 90’s old school throughout the house, so I was outside a lot.

Now, you named your projects after Lorna Lane, which I’m assuming is where you live, and Dellwood Market. What do those places and names mean to you?

Rahli: I lost my mother on Lorna Lane, she passed away in her sleep on that street. I moved to Lorna in 2008. So I was already molding as a man and then moving to Dellwood I saw a different side of the county, because I’m from the city. It gave me a little bit of what was missing, and then losing my momma on that street, yeah, it tied me to it. I got in trouble over there. I came from being a badass to a public speaker to this neighborhood.

How would you describe STL to someone that has never been there like myself? You hear so many stories of poverty and oppression, is it as bad as people say it is?

Rahli: Yeah man, because you can’t mind your business. In other cities, everybody tells you you can run into problems, but for me, I can move to Atlanta and mind my business. We so small, you can run into anybody in St. Louis. About two-three streets up, it’s good living but about two, three streets down and you’re like “don’t go down there.” I tell people to visit and it will always be home, but the goal is to get out.

That’s kind of surprising because when I hear your music you show a lot of love to your city but at the same time you’re describing it as a place filled with drama. This move to Atlanta is a relief almost.

Rahli: It’s a step for the city, it’s one of those things where it’s like, what’s better for you? As much as I want to be here, I don’t want to be here and I can’t. There is so much other stuff that takes place, but I’ll always fuck with the city.

Right now, surprisingly there has been a good amount of St. Louis artists to come out. The most popular being Nelly, were those guys big to you growing up?

Rahli: Of course, Nelly was our first guy we rocked with. Then you had guys like Chingy, Huey, Kwon, and a few others. We had our little wave there. You have to take your hat off to them for what they did for the city, because I ain’t asking for a handout, but you got to take your hat off.

How would you describe the music scene in St. Louis today?

Rahli: You want to know what’s crazy? When you ride around the STL, at least three out of ten cars you drive by are going to be listening to somebody from the city. It’s like we got it right now as far as the people, the supporters and all that. If you got a nice song and a nice visual, the city is going to listen to it. It’s just hard because of the lack of backing we got as far as the industry isn’t there.

Yeah that’s interesting, I guess because it isn’t as “sexy” as saying you are a New York or L.A. rapper, but you also still have a lot of big names that came from St. Louis. It’s kind of crazy the city doesn’t get as much respect as it should.

Rahli: I hear we got the one-hit-wonder phase of rappers, maybe it was the run of their songs, so yeah it could have been that nobody really lasted the whole ride out.

Yeah that definitely didn’t help, you think those guys fading out were part of the reason why St. Louis hasn’t popped off?

Rahli: Yeah, has to be that way because you see guys like Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti running around their city doing a lot of co-signing. That co-sign only helps that much more when they are still active and doing something relevant. Unlike our old-heads trying to do a co-sign and being looked at like “we haven’t heard from you guys in years.” So I do feel like it did put some extra weight on us.

That’s fair. Now you dropped the debut tape Dellwood Market, what were the feelings that you were going through when you were awaiting that initial release?

Rahli: It was a huge accomplishment like I had been working for months stashing records. Like six to eight songs a session and they were good songs, good records so it was me really working. So getting that list together was so hard, because I was ready to unload everything I had man.

And I feel like “Perc 30” was the one that got you to be put on notice, because you got such a different aggressiveness, like you’re possessed almost. Where does that come from man? Where do you go from within to get that sound?

Rahli: Yeah, I mean, when perfecting a craft I didn’t listen to a lot of people so I feel like when they listening to their favorite artist they are going to sound like that artist. So I wasn’t stuck to one, so you just hear the pain in my voice but I’m still trying to be different. Plus when I be turnt on that liquor man, and I go in there and spit something and the engineer asks if that came out clear, I be telling him I don’t know keep that in there, that shit tight.

Yeah, that was the first song I sent to all my friends, they loved that track. Now as I am listening to the tape I get to “Any Moment” and this was the first sign of layers for you; you can harmonize. Where does that harmonizing come from? It’s crazy how you can change sounds like that.

Rahli: I be playing with my notes a little bit. I’m not a singer, but I be on the Travis Porter/Roscoe Dash wave. They gave the game a little different vibe, I am still me though and I do pain music. I’m big on it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. People want to vibe, they want some kind of repetition and they want to feel it. So I was always skeptical because I knew this melody was going to throw everyone all the way off. But I like that it went like “Perc 30” caught everybody, but I try to do all this type of music and stay in my character and think that’s still Rahli. Now, it’s just when you hear “Perc 30” you think I’m drunk now.

When you dropped this tape, what was the reaction not just in your city but from your fans worldwide?

Rahli: Even with “Born Bae Bae,” people were saying ‘he sounds different.’ I still had that St. Louis feel because of what I was saying, but I still sounded different. Once I got to that “Perc 30” stage in my music, everybody was like ‘I told y’all he got his sound’ and it sounds perfected. Even though I don’t want to say it’s perfected, because I still want to get all the way better. I don’t try to keep myself in one lane, I try to keep this music fun. I feel like that’s the best way to not get caught up in writer’s block or saying the same shit on the last tape. I never want to get caught in that box.

Absolutely, you got to be yourself at all times. I see that from you 100 percent. Especially with your newest project Still Big Rallo From Lorna you dropped this year. It sounds like you perfected your sound exactly how you wanted to. What changed for you this time around?

Rahli: Well of course production got better, I was just in competition with myself. So I look at songs like ‘I need a better “Same Shit”,’ like let’s put this on another level and get that same feel. That’s what goes through my mind in these eight to twelve hour sessions in the studio. I always want to top my last set of songs when I go to the studio anyway, that’s always my goal.

Yeah man, and from this newest project you had some pretty big features. What was it like working with Quando Rondo and Duke Duece on this album? I am a huge fan of all three of these guys and the chemistry you had with all of them.

Rahli: Aye we were shocked, I feel like we got one of Quando Rondo’s best verses on “Solidified.” That’s Top 10 Quando verses of all time. That session was cool. Me and Duke had good vibes in the studio when we did the “Perc 30 Remix.” He came and was like ‘This is crazy’ when he heard the beat.

Yeah, he added a different element to it, the contrast of your voices made the track go that much harder for me. How about working with Mozzy on a record? He is one of the realest in hip-hop right now.

Rahli: It was a great experience to be in the studio with someone like Mozzy. I mean it’s Mozzy. Like if I was a Blood, banging the red flag, this equivalent to a Crip getting a feature with Nipsey — RIP to Nip — you know what I mean. He a real n**** flat out, he shows the most love. And he wants to do more music, so it’s definitely one under my belt.

You look on SoundCloud and the streaming numbers for each song are over one million. When you see that, how do you react to that considering how much work you have put in?

Rahli: Man, I still trying to be humble but I can’t. My people around me are geeked and saying let’s turn up, they get me excited. Some people say that’s good how I am, because my character is humble anyways. I always take a second to let it marinate, and the next morning it hit like, “Damn I hit a million views!”

Man, that’s a crazy feeling. One thing I admire about you is that you do not stop working, not just with music but with music videos and the busy schedule you have. What’s the schedule like for you?

Rahli: Man, there’s no schedule we are just moving. Everything comes in the heat of the moment. Of course, we got some things that are timed out and have the blueprint. But every time I get around people, the energy is different. My A&R’s setting stuff up and has me linked with people and the next thing you know we got so hard. Now we have more going on than we thought we did.

You started your own label, Rent Due Entertainment. What’s the reasoning behind the name and what’s the plan with it?

Rahli: I named it Rent Due because I feel like the city wasn’t giving that same appreciation back. It was more so a heavy shot at everything. I tell people ‘I’m the landlord, everybody’s rent is due, man. I’m coming through the whole city.’ It just stuck. As far as the plan, eventually as I learn more in the game I can give someone a blueprint. I don’t want to give anybody game that I am making up. Once I get in that position, I will help artists in the city; I feel like I’m obligated. I feel like any St. Louis artist, it’s a job you need to be a big part of your career to sign somebody from the city because nobody is doing it for our city right now. I wouldn’t mind expanding though either, but I’m going to start at home.

Now that you are moving to Atlanta, what are your expectations moving forward with your career?

Rahli: I want to make Rahli a household name. When you throw out names like Youngboy, Lil Baby, Quando Rondo, I want Rahli after that. Hopefully with this next mixtape, which I don’t have a date for, it can be in line with everything that keeps on progressing. So yeah… this tape we are doing it. We are already in the works with solidified tracks and a lot others to go through.

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