“My stomach hurts. I ate a whole rack of ribs.”
It’s 12:30 am at Mad Decent’s Thursday night SXSW party. I’ve just chased Riff Raff into a small outdoor VIP area, introduced myself as a journalist who is supposed to write a story about hanging out with him, asked him how he was feeling, and received the above answer. Fifteen minutes ago, Riff Raff and his crew got kicked off the stage because things were running late, to a strange mixture of cheers, boos, and chants of his name.
“Unlike some musicians, who are eager to remind everyone they’re just people, he’s never going to show me what’s underneath, so his performance had better be good.”
I’m far from the only one who has chased him back there. Everywhere I turn, there are more people eager for a piece of Riff Raff, one of whom is a slightly orange but not unattractive L. A. woman in short shorts, Ugg boots and blonde highlights who seems intent on going home with the viral rap superstar. He seems interested. But for now, he ignores all of them as he fights through the people thronged at the bar. “I’m an artist!” he yells as the bartender tries to stop him from fishing two cans of pineapple juice out of a bucket. His massive bodyguard Kane (who is also a UFC fighter and a dad) intervenes on his behalf, and he leans against a wall as he chugs his ill-gotten gains. Uggs approaches, telling him how great the show was and how long she’s been wanting to see him, and he responds by putting his arm around her waist.
I thought I might have a bit of competition for Riff Raff’s attention, so I’ve donned my weed leggings to show that I am 420-friendly and brought four different drugs with me as bait, despite not being particularly in the mood to do any of them myself. Which to choose? His manager tells me I should say, “Jody, I brought the rice out” and he will talk to me. This sounds reasonable. “Hey Jody,” I say with as much swag as I can muster. “I brought the rice out.” Wink wink. “Oh, word?” he says, perking up.
This holds his interest long enough for my friend Debbie and me to take pictures with him (when in Rome!), most of which Debbie will lose when her phone breaks in the mosh pit at Thee Oh Sees. But we quickly lose him again, surrounded as he is by a neverending swarm of people who, drawn to his larger-than-life persona like so many children to a guy in a Mickey Mouse costume, want to take pictures with him, hug him, talk to him, make fake gang signs with him, etc. It’s not like he doesn’t invite this with his inscrutable veneer of ridiculousness (is he full of shit or isn’t he?) and the fact that he is basically a walking internet meme. But I can still see how this might be annoying when you just want to drink your pineapple juice and mack on a girl. He gets visibly jumpy when too many people touch him. “Let me see your grill!” squeals one girl. He obliges. He does a slightly different pose in each picture, sometimes holding up his ice, sometimes stroking his chin as if deep in thought. While all this is happening, Uggs cozies up to Kane, cooing, “I like him, he’s my new friend.” Kane seems unimpressed. He probably has a lot of these kinds of “friends.”
After doing this for nearly an hour, Riff Raff wants to go backstage. “No more pictures,” Kane tells everyone. A wasted girl with pink hair who has been monopolizing the rap mascot runs up and tries to grab him again anyway, and Kane knocks her over to show he means business. We form a conga line with Riff Raff and his girl in the middle, and barrel out of the VIP area and back inside the party, to the small backstage area. I somehow end up in front, but I don’t know where the backstage is, so I lead us astray for a minute before someone else takes the lead.
“Now, this is a lil’ more motherfucking comfortable!” Jody says, looking around the small room. Most of these people (Danny Brown, A-Trak, assorted friends) are too cool to try to take a picture with him, although I’m sure they secretly want to. All of the women but us are peroxide blonde. Away from the melee, Uggs takes the lead in the conversation, pulling down her pants to reveal a small tattoo of musical notes and expounding at length on the perfectness of Riff Raff’s teeth. “Did you ever have braces?” she asks, and he shakes his head. “I got one fang, though,” he says, snarling to reveal one sharp canine amid rows of chiclets. “I got fangs, bro!”
At this point, he starts digging into my rice supply, and I think we might finally be getting somewhere. I ask why he isn’t drinking, and he says “Coke good, alcohol bad.” I tell him that I’m not a big drinker either, but now that he’s actually paying attention to me, he doesn’t like it that I’m writing things down in my notebook. He says he doesn’t want me to write about doing drugs with him at this party. “We got sponsors and shit,” he says. “You can’t be talking about drugs.” “Oh, stop it,” I say to the man who singlehandedly popularized a new euphemism for blow, and who has a reputation for fucking with people. But he holds firm. “We can do it, we just can’t talk about it.”
Whether or not he is fucking with me, he doesn’t seem to be changing his mind, so I stand there wondering if I should let him. In a way, he has exposed me; just like the hangers on outside, I don’t really want to be his friend. I want him to perform for me, give me something to post on Facebook. And unlike some musicians, who are eager to remind everyone they’re just people, he’s never going to show me what’s underneath, so his performance had better be good.
I try to change the subject, but I’ve lost him. “This is the longest interview ever,” he says, then gives me his number and tells me to text him if I have any more questions. So I give him some room to breathe. Fondling his girl’s ass, he smokes a blunt with some people while shouting “rastafarai!” Maybe he only likes to perform when it’s his idea.
He’s still being nice to my friend Debbie, so she asks him what the deal is with the Spring Breakers controversy, and if he’s friends with Harmony Korine. “Well, I used to be,” he says, then explains how Korine did some things that were really not cool to him. Debbie asks if he thinks he stole his persona for James Franco’s character. “You do the math,” he replies, in an excellent non-answer.
Uggs has been trying to get Jody to go home since she met him, asking “aren’t you tired?” with increasing frequency. Finally, she gets her wish, and I follow them outside to their SUV. Although he is miraculously still willing to let me tag along, I recall that I’m parked illegally. “Text me later if you wanna meet up,” he says. “I’ll tell you where we are.” I do, but he evades me. I’m not mad. Whatever he’s doing, I hope it’s relaxing.