RiFF RAFF recently stopped by Hot 97 for a noticeably intense interview. Sitting down with radio hosts Peter Rosenberg and Ebro, RiFF was subjected to some tough questions regarding his authenticity as an artist, particularly from Ebro. The uncomfortable exchange was recorded and uploaded to Hot 97’s Youtube channel. Before continuing, watch below.
Saturated with tattoos, sporting flamboyant jewelry and speaking with a twang that’s half Texan, half mouthful-of-Listerine, RiFF RAFF is certainly an odd spectacle to behold. In that sense, it makes sense that radio personality Ebro confronted RiFF so aggressively. For Ebro, RiFF is the latest manifestation of a troubling history of white artists rising to prominence through ridiculing black artists. The example par excellence is Vanilla Ice, who is infamous for being one of rap’s first “perpetrators.”
While Ebro’s tenacity is heartfelt and understandable, there are some serious issues with his comparison between Vanilla Ice and RiFF RAFF. First of all, like RiFF RAFF, Vanilla Ice wasn’t a joke. The story that he fronted as a gangster in order to be a “credible” artist is half true. While there were efforts to alter his history to make him more street, these efforts were on behalf of his label rather than himself. SBK Records, the label that he was signed to during his meteoric rise to fame, published unauthorized biographies about him and sold them, notably altering his history to “justify” him as a rapper. Ice didn’t even know about these biographies: he found out about them while he was on tour. So Ice technically isn’t even an example of a perpetrator.
Beyond the myth of Vanilla Ice perpetrating, the bigger flaw with the comparison between him and RiFF is the implication that RiFF and Ice are similar simply because they’re both white rappers. This is a shallow understanding of race. While race is hard to look past, an important thing to remember is that it is always intertwined with other social categories, especially where you’re from. At one point during the interview, RiFF RAFF, who is from Texas, mentions his affiliations with famed Texas record label Swishahouse. Swishahouse’s heyday may be over, but it is well known for introducing the world to Paul Wall. Although Paul Wall and RiFF are far apart on the spectrum of flamboyance, their common origin in Texas suggests that in Texas, what might be seen as mockery in other places is completely normal. In other words, by Texas standards, RiFF isn’t so odd. The same goes for Vanilla Ice, who is also from Texas. Ebro doesn’t even consider this. For him all white rappers can be compared to all white rappers. C’mon Ebro, didn’t Yelawolf already solve the white rapper conundrum?
This isn’t to suggest that all white rappers from Texas get a pass, but merely to highlight that race isn’t this free-floating thing. Location, time period, gender, nationality, class and various other social categories should always come to bear on the assumptions we make about race.
And beyond that, the simple things that people want for themselves are important as well. Just because RiFF says he isn’t a joke doesn’t mean we have to believe him (Full disclosure: this writer believes him), but it does mean we should at least take his reasons for not considering himself a joke somewhat seriously. Ebro didn’t do that. He looked at RiFF RAFF, made up his mind then berated him for what he thinks RiFF RAFF is doing. That’s disrespectful.
For more on taking RiFF somewhat seriously (but not in a dumb, pretentious way), check out these essays by Cameron Kunzelman.
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