Roddy Ricch wants to be known as much more than the voice behind the number-one album and song in the country. The accolades are nice, he says, but the 21-year-old rapper would rather his legacy be defined more by community impact than charting singles. In this way, he’s a direct descendent of his late mentor, Nipsey Hussle, who parlayed a deeply empathetic worldview into cultural cachet and accolades both critical and commercial. “I feel like it’s our job as young ni—as that came out of the city to understand Nipsey’s point of view and what he was teaching,” the Compton-born emcee says. “We need to carry that shit forward in our own little ways.” (Shortly before our chat, it was announced that Roddy would be carrying that shit forward in his own little way by joining YG, Meek Mill, and DJ Khaled at this weekend’s Grammy Awards for a Nipsey Hussle tribute performance.)
Because the aforementioned number-one single, “The Box,” has surprisingly rocketed to the top of the charts (and stayed there for multiple weeks), the song has inadvertently sparked wars with Beliebers and Selena Gomez stans as they’ve tried to propel their artists to Roddy’s spot atop the charts. But Roddy says he’s spent his early rise trying to avoid the spotlight altogether. “I don’t really partake in the celebrity aspect of it all. I don’t go to parties, I don’t hang out, I don’t really talk to nobody. I don’t really consider myself a celebrity,” he explains. “When the world catches me outside, then it’s like, ‘Oh shit, it’s Roddy!’ I’m cool about it, as long as my personal space isn’t threatened. It’s funny, I’m not a celebrity, I guess I’m just known.”
It’s not that Roddy’s uncomfortable with success; he’s just ambivalent about the dressings that accompany it. Roddy Ricch is on a mission to prove himself to be more than a chart-topping success. He wants to be the voice of his generation, a Compton emblem like Kendrick and YG and Dre before him. “Fame won’t change me,” he says. “It’s a blessing to be somebody that people look up to and can connect to emotionally.”
GQ: You’re going to be doing a Nipsey Hussle tribute at the Grammy Awards. What does it mean to be a part of Nipsey’s legacy in that way?
Roddy Ricch: Being from my city and being a part of Nipsey’s legacy just go hand in hand. The groundwork that he started, we now get the chance to carry it forward. A lot of the things he wanted to do, he actually accomplished.
What do you think it is about your personality that made older rappers like Nipsey and Meek Mill respect and seek you out?
It just came from organic vibes. When I was first rocking with Nipsey, around the time of Victory Lap, Meek was still fighting his legal battle. We all came together, and they embraced me as an artist because they saw the transparency in my music—the realness behind my music was too factual to be ignored. Nipsey knew this and Meek began to see this, too. He wasn’t from my city, so he didn’t grasp it as quickly as Nipsey did, but he began to learn and understand my perspective as we got to know each other better.
Even though you get most of your inspiration from growing up in Compton, do you think you’re now at the point in your career where your music transcends city or place?
I’m not sure. As I experience life, my music is gonna evolve. At the same time, I still do tell the stories from my world because there are unlimited stories and unlimited people from that place. I’ll always represent them. As my life begins to change and I do different things, I still want to be able to tap in and relate to them.
Is it more difficult to relate to that world because you’re no longer living in Compton?
Honestly, it hasn’t. I’m still very involved in my community. I give back and I’m always there for the homies. That’s one of the biggest parts of what I do. We do a lot of giveaways, things like that, but those aren’t things I put out there with the media. I’m still very active with where I come from, so it’s not hard to stay connected at all.
When you made Feed tha Streets, did you think it would have the impact it did? Or was it surprising when it found so much success?
I just made the music. When I made Feed tha Streets, those were the only 17 songs I had made, period. There was no cutting songs out or adding other songs in. Those were the only 17 that I had in my chamber. I released those, and when I did Feed tha Streets 2, I made a crazy amount of songs. It was a part of growth. Being my first project, I didn’t really know how to go about it, so I just did it. That shit got me here.
When I made Feed tha Streets 2, I definitely thought to myself, Damn, I put out the only 17 songs I had and it got me this. When I did Feed tha Streets 2, I did it with the motivation of having more songs to work with. If I had more songs to work through, there would be a higher percentage chance of making more good ones. I didn’t really know how rappers did it. I just made the music. It naturally began to change.
Did you have any mentors when you were making those early records?
My dude Bird has been around the whole time. I met [Nipsey Hussle associate] Keefer around the time of Feed tha Streets. He wasn’t a general in Nipsey’s crew, but he was the eye that sort of watched the whole scene. When I got in contact with Keefer, he taught me how to expand my sound and explore different options regarding how to release music.
How did “The Box” come together as a single? Did you realize pretty early on that it was one of the singles on the album?
It was actually the last song I made for the album. I made it at, like, 7 A.M. in New York after recording all night. I made the song and just decided to put it on the album. I didn’t even have it as a single before the album came out. Feed tha Streets 2 had no features. With this one, I wanted people to see who I had been rocking with over the course of me not being on the scene as much. I did songs with people I fuck with, like Gunna and A Boogie [wit da Hoodie], and made those the singles. I wanted my fans to pick the singles based off which ones they liked the most. I didn’t want to force it.
How have you approached the quick rise to celebrity? I imagine that’s got to be kind of hard to navigate.
You know how you think of celebrities? I don’t really be outside enough for that. The only time I feel that is when I step out for an event and the paparazzi is tripping. I don’t really feel stardom until I pop up at shows, which is fine, because that’s only, like, an hour out of the day and I get to connect with my fans.
That reminds me of Kendrick’s mindset, too. He’s one of the most famous rappers on the planet but never really acts like it. Is that something you learned from him?
It’s definitely something I’ve noticed about him. Coming up, I didn’t have too much of a personal relationship with him, but it’s definitely something I paid attention to and aspired to act similarly. When I was coming up, I remember Meek telling me, “When you on top, watch out, you’re gonna be on top, you’re gonna be everywhere.” Now he comes to me like, “Damn, you still ain’t changed! You don’t fuck with nobody, that’s crazy. I don’t see how you do it, but you do it.” I’ll remain the same, it shows something in my character.
What’s been the craziest part about having the number-one single and the number-one album?
It hasn’t really registered yet. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. A lot of people get bigheaded and shit, but my mama sends me prayers every morning. I dunno, man. I can’t see myself getting too overwhelmed by that. I just wanna keep doing music for my people and explaining how we live. That’s it.
What is it about rap that satisfies your artistic drive?
I can see people reciting what I spit. That’s amazing. This is what comes from my heart. It’s intangible. If I can take what’s in my heart and put it in yours, that’s something people can’t touch or take away from me. I put these words down, you know? I can share my experiences with people, and they identify with it and sing it back to me. That’s the best feeling in the world.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The life and legacy of the tragically gunned-down rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle, according to those who knew him best.
Originally Appeared on GQ