Q+A: Riff Raff
The eccentric rapper talks about his basketball history and the sport’s influence on his career and style.
by Adam Figman / @afigman
Riff Raff is mid-conversation when he answers the phone.
“Alright so we need a three-way competition: a one-on-one basketball game, a freestyle battle and celebrity boxing match at MGM Grand. Oh man, if I could get Adrien Broner on my squad… Hello? Man, what’s up?”
No need to figure out who exactly he’s speaking to or what he’s talking about—delving too deep into the details of Riff Raff’s existence is an exercise that’s already proved itself awfully difficult. But here’s what we do know: The ever-eccentric Houston-raised, Internet-bred rapper is a big-time hoophead. His raps are littered with NBA references; he’s posted countless bball-themed tweets and Vines; he answered the question “Can you hoop?” at a “press conference” of sorts at his show in New York City last September with “I hoop so good I damn near could’ve been Sheryl Swoopes”; and he says he played ball for two different high schools, one a largely positive experience in which his streetball-inspired game thrived and the other so negative it tainted his love for the sport to this day.
With a movie starring a character that may or may not have been based on his likeness in theaters now and, more importantly, a debut studio album in the works, Riff Raff took a few minutes to hop on the phone with SLAM to talk basketball and the effect it’s had on his blooming music career.
SLAM: I saw on Twitter that you were playing basketball just a few minutes ago.
Riff Raff: Yep. You saw it? I just made up a new move, the Jody Skywalker. I was in the gym, I just thought of this new move. I’m just on new shit—new songs, new basketball moves. I’m designing some shoes right now, the Jody Skywalkers. And I was like, Shit, I need to just come up with a new move.
SLAM: You’re working on a sneaker line?
Riff Raff: Yeah, I’m designing ‘em right now. I’m trying to see who we should go through, what actual brand, but I want them to be like super luxury. They’ll be basketball shoes but they aren’t gonna be at Payless. They ain’t gonna be no middle-of-the-mall shit. They’re gonna be some real, custom shoes that you gotta order ‘em or you gotta catch ‘em when they come out. They’re gonna be exclusive, so whichever brand I pick, they gotta be prepared to drop extra paper on them.
SLAM: And you’re gonna be able to hoop in them?
Riff Raff: Oh yeah. You know how Louis Vutton luggage, it looks good but it’s durable, too? [My sneakers are] gonna be basketball shoes that you can actually play in. The soles aren’t gonna be falling off, and you’re not gonna be getting cussed at by your PE teacher because you were making black scuff marks on the floor with cheap-ass shoes. Nah. These are exclusive. Full ankle support. Full traction control. You can ride a dirt bike in ‘em; you can play basketball in ‘em; you can go to the club in ‘em. You gotta get two pairs: One for hooping, one for luxury wearing.
SLAM: Did you have a favorite pair of basketball sneakers growing up?
Riff Raff: I liked them LJs [Larry Johnsons], the Converse ones. Michael Jordans—I would always try to get Jordans.
SLAM: When did you learn the game?
Riff Raff: Man, I’ve been hooping since I was a kid. That’s what I know best, to hoop. I need to get back in shape so I can try out for the Hornets. I need to be in all the celebrity games, but unless people don’t see that you got skills, nobody’s gonna know! They don’t know that I should’ve been in all the celebrity games. But guess what, if I go in the celebrity games and play against all these actors and musicians and stuff, I’ll be dropping 30 a game and dunking on people. All that. I should’ve played in the All-Star Game, that shit would’ve been so crazy.
SLAM: Do you have any favorite players?
Riff Raff: I’m cool with Nate Robinson and Baron Davis. I think Blake Griffin’s cool. LeBron. Allen Iverson. I like a lot of AND1 players too because that’s what I grew up watching, the AND1 mixtape. That’s where I get a lot of my style from. I got my rap style from AND1 shit, too, ‘cause it’s like, it’s against the rules, but it’s more fun than playing the actual game. When I was growing up, basketball was fun as shit and all the coaches loved me, then my senior year I switched schools, and the coach was talking all this shit about how he’s gonna have me be a starter and this and that. Then he put me on the bench and had me running traditional plays and shit, and that ain’t my style. It kinda fucked me up, mentally. I was like, Damn, I’m sitting on the bench and I’m used to hooping streetball style and the coaches always loved me. Then my senior year, supposed to be my biggest year, then the coach had me sitting on the bench and everybody was shocked.
That’s how I kind of feel about the rap game. Everybody loves my style and shit like that, but it’s not conventional, ‘cause it’s some fun shit. I play basketball the same way I do rap, the way I do everything—freestyle. Freestyle moves, hooping, having fun, but it’s not no joke. The shit’s flashy but the shit’s a little better.
SLAM: What position were you in high school?
Riff Raff: A 2-guard. I’d sometimes bring the ball down, but I would be the one coming from the other side, from the post, come up and set the screen. I’d be the one curling and rubbing shoulders, going around the pick, catching the ball and shooting the three. Coming down on the fast break and shooting threes. That was just my style—I’d come off a few screens and catch the ball and shoot jumpers. That was my thing, shooting jumpers.
SLAM: Did you want to play in college?
Riff Raff: Yeah, but after high school and shit it kind of set me back. I kind of felt like, Hey, I could’ve hit the pros. I started going more toward doing whatever and having fun. I started getting older and I started not liking that structure and organization with a coach telling you what to do. I was like, Shit, I’m a grown man now too. I shouldn’t have to listen to you tell me how to play basketball. This is my court, I can play how I want. Then it goes back to: This is his team, he wants to run it like this. That’s too much egos. Basketball stopped being fun for me by the time I was like 19. So I just quit that shit.
SLAM: And you liked rap more because you didn’t have to abide by that kind of structure.
Riff Raff: Yeah man, too much rules. That’s why with music, I don’t look to people for assistance. I don’t look for people to guide me. I hate being told what to do. That’s why I quit basketball when I was 19. If I’m not gonna listen to a coach or listen to a school and teachers and all that when I’m 19, as time progressed, you think I’m gonna listen to somebody tell me how to talk and make songs? I’m gonna make my songs how I want.
SLAM: I saw you changed your Twitter name to CODEiNE OLAJUWON. Were you a big Hakeem Olajuwon fan?
Riff Raff: Yeah man, I was a big Rockets fan growing up. All them players, like Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, Hakeem Olajuwon. Olajuwon, man, the Dream Shake. I used to watch the games.
SLAM: You’ve dropped a bunch of bball references into your raps. Have a favorite?
Riff Raff: Rap Game Dan Majerle on the strawberry Harley!
SLAM: Who do you think is the Riff Raff of the NBA?
Riff Raff: Ummm, let me see. It was Jason Williams. Remember Jason Williams?
SLAM: Of course. White Chocolate.
Riff Raff: Yeah, that’s what they used to call me. Right now? Maybe LeBron, how he comes through with full force, just relentless. Just bringing the rice out. That’s what I call “bringing the rice out”—you give 100 percent, you don’t care how you look, you just come into it and you’re coming to win. You’re coming with full intensity just doing shit. LeBron’s nasty. I like Blake Griffin. I don’t know if I can compare [any NBA players] to me just yet. I can compare boxers. Who’s somebody in the NBA who pulls up with flashy cars and pulls up with jewelry and all that? I don’t know if anybody does. I should play in the NBA. I need to get in the shape to play in the NBA. The closest I would say is LeBron James. Who would you say?
SLAM: I have no idea. Maybe JR Smith?
Riff Raff: Yeah, I like JR Smith. Who’s a basketball player who talks a lot of shit? The last one I can remember is Allen Iverson, that’s why I say Allen Iverson. Like I remember when Allen Iverson first came out he shook Jordan, and it was crazy. It was epic. It was a game-changer. He took the top man ever and shook him. You’ve got your fans who are loving it, and then there are the people who are like, “Oh, this is illegal,” and they start calling carries and stuff like that because it’s too good. Allen Iverson was doing too good. He was too good, too new, too street. That’s how I get my style. I’m basically the white Allen Iverson. Rap Game Allen Iverson.