After several delays, Baltimore club MC and M.I.A. protégé Rye Rye finally released her debut album Go! Pop! Bang! this week. The record places a big emphasis on that grimy, rapid-fire Bmore-style bass sound best exemplified by her breakthrough hit “Shake It To The Ground,” but the 21-year-old also expands into new musical territory, tackling straight-up hip-hop beats courtesy of producers Bangladesh and Pharrell Williams and going all Top 40 on “DNA,” a glittering dance-pop anthem produced by RedOne.
In conversation, Rye Rye is as fast and animated a talker as she is a rapper. We recently rang her up in Los Angeles to chat about the evolution of her sound, her place in the hip-hop world, repping Baltimore and working with M.I.A. Read the Q&A after the jump!
You’ve had a few delays in getting your album out. How has it changed from when you first started working on it?
At first it was really different. It was about adjusting to the times and now it’s sounding more – I don’t want to say mainstream. The first album, when I recorded it, it was so weird and so different I feel like since I re-recorded the stuff it’s almost close to mainstream. It’s like mainstream/ underground. That’s the only difference.
What prompted the change to the more mainstream sound?
I didn’t want to do a whole mainstream sound but when I put out my mixtape Ryeot Power I felt like that addressed Baltimore and that was straight Baltimore music, but for my album I wanted to do something different. More Baltimore influenced by not exactly Baltimore all the way because I did that on my mixtape. I still kept it in a high-energy spirit for the album. It’s music that’ll make you dance but mixed with mainstream.
What was it like working with big-time producers like RedOne and Bangladesh?
It was awesome. I played tight with everybody. All the new producers I recorded with it was like I already knew ’em for so long. That was the feeling I got because they were so down to earth and so humble. We clicked.
On the opening track “Drop” you say “I’m so sick of being an average chick/I’m a hood girl doing white girl shit.” What do you mean by that line?
[laughs] Oh, it was like, when I first started [making music] I got exposed to a newer side [of the industry] and back then people in Baltimore were close minded. Because I started touring with M.I.A., I kinda picked up her style and all of that stuff and I was exposed to a whole new life. When I come back home, people would look at me like I was strange. Like clothes that I had on, people were like, ‘What does she have on?! That’s crazy!” I was doing more hipster stuff and I got involved in that hipster life.
When I started that line “I’m a hood girl” it’s like I used to do this at first and I wasn’t into none of this and now I’m into white girl shit. I’m just living my life. I’m just living wild and fun and I feel like white girls do that and that a lot of black girls are, like, uptight. You will find some that are into that lane but they’re uptight especially where I come from. Girls would stand around and if they can’t dance, they won’t dance. They look at everything weird and they really don’t get it. I feel like in the white girl world, they don’t give a f*ck. They just do whatever.
What were you like growing up?
When I was growing up I knew everybody. I was always the popular girl in my hood and at all the schools I went to because I wasn’t like those average girls. Like, I didn’t care. A lot of people worry about opinions. Personally, I would do what I want to do and then when I really got exposed to this other life I was like, ‘I don’t give a f*ck! I do what I want!’ And I feel like people respected that and where I come from you gotta gain that respect. People, like I said, were uptight. If you do something different, they look at you like you’re crazy. They get it now, but I had to make ’em get it.
Do you still perform in clubs in Baltimore?
Yeah, but most of the time I just go to clubs to hang out with people and watch the dancers and stuff. But I perform there a little bit. Not a lot.
How has your dancing evolved over the last few years?
I feel like I made it more just about Baltimore club dancing because that’s my goal in general with my music and performing. I always bring Baltimore dancers on because I want to give them the opportunity. My whole goal is to expose Baltimore. I have been working with different dancers and I have been adding a lot more hip-hop into my set.
What do you like about Baltimore?
I honestly like the spirit. I feel like me being from Baltimore is why I’m so humble. Growing up in Baltimore a lot of people aren’t making it and it’s like you’re just automatically humble. Now that I’m into the industry, people always say that about me: like, she’s cool. She’s very humble. People respect that. Coming from that environment where people couldn’t really make it, I love that it humbled me. There’s no place like home. When I go home, I love the people there. You might come to California and see a bunch of people that act Hollywood and be like, ‘Whatever I don’t come from that. I come from a real place.’ You know what I’m saying? I like that it’s real. Baltimore is just real.
What was M.I.A.’s role on the record? When you started she was the executive producer but as time has passed she’s moved on to other projects, like her next record.
I did an album that was just me and her at first but when it got delayed I started recording with other producers. She’s featured on a couple of tracks and on the album that we recorded at first. She basically produced a lot of the tracks.
Rye Rye feat. M.I.A., “Sunshine”
What would you say the two of you have in common? Why do you get along so well?
Me and Maya? [pauses] I think when I first met her, I felt like we did the same type of music because I heard some of her music and it reminded me of Baltimore club music. That was the first thing that came to my mind: like, “Oh I like her we do almost the same thing.’ And I loved that she didn’t care. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to be herself. A lot of people in the industry feel like they have to be this made-up character or this made-up artist and I loved that M.I.A. didn’t give a f*ck. That’s what she said about me in an interview: “I love that Rye has so much confidence to be so young so I had to sign her.”
Another thing is she always said we both came from a rugged place. She came from a place where all that stuff was going on and she felt like a rebel and it’s tough in Baltimore as well. There was a connection. I think we both knew the real from the fake. We’re both alike. I don’t like fake shit and she don’t either. And I just think that we just humble. Like, we just real.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in the process of making and putting out this album?
Just to do what I want to do. M.I.A. always told me, ‘When you get signed to a record label sometimes they will try to change you. If you let it happen they’ll do it.’ She always told me to stay true to myself and I learned that. There are a lot of snakes in the industry and you got to be a strong person to fight that off. Some people can’t fight it off but me, I’m a strong individual. I don’t care what power you have I’m the same as you are. I’m myself and I just learned that. Just stay myself.
Sounds like you get a lot of advice from M.I.A. but do you ever give her advice?
Yeah! I’ll give her advice sometimes if she has insecurities and stuff. If she feels she did a bad show I will tell her, ‘The show wasn’t bad. You did what you had to do.’ Sometimes she will address negativity or when people said something about her and she took it really serious, I just told her, ‘You don’t have to worry about them. You’re in it to do what you love. Like you’re gonna have haters.’ I just tell her not to focus on that type of shit. People are gonna talk regardless — it don’t even matter. Who are they to talk? Nobody.
You mentioned that you have more hip-hop beats on this record. Where do you see yourself fitting in in the hip-hop world?
When I worked with Bangladesh, I felt like that put me in the hip-hop world because the beat that I did with him, every time I will play it for somebody they’ll be like, ‘You know what? It’s so dope! it’s like “A Milli” in the future!’ But I feel like I brought my own flavor to it.
And the hip-hop world? I don’t officially want to be in the hip-hop world. I feel like there’s a lot that comes with it. You have to be this person. Like, they want a lot! You got to deal with so much. I kinda try to stay away from it but I feel like, right now, a lot of people take to the hip-hop world so I thought it was cool to put some urban-ness on the record. I always stayed in the underground club world but people always said — even M.I.A. — that Rye Rye has the potential to do it all. She has the potential to be a hip-hop artist. She has the potential to be a pop artist. She can do club. They always told me I could do it all and I just feel like I wanted to address all of it on my album. You don’t have to stay in one genre.
Rye Rye, “Hotter” (Produced by Bangladesh)
How do you feel about the way female rappers are portrayed in the media? I’m always reading about beefs, like ‘she said this about her on Twitter.’ How do you feel about that whole vibe and the way women in rap are portrayed?
I really don’t bang with it. I don’t like that type of stuff. I hate all of that negative energy and I feel like the way that a lot of artists are portrayed in the industry is bullshit. I feel like it’s fake. You got a lot of rappers out here that are supposed to be from the hood and they supposed to be tough but these artists probably never seen the hood or never even did nothing to make them feel gangster but the way they portray themselves. It’s all an attention grabber. I don’t take it serious at all. I don’t like the negative beefs. I don’t like the stuff people do to draw attention to themselves. Let it come to you. You don’t have to create beef. You don’t have to portray that you’re this hood. Just be yourself. I don’t take a lot of people serious. Like, I just look at it like it’s all bullshit.
What aspects of your music do you find have been embraced the most by gay audiences? Are a lot of gay guys and girls showing up at your gigs?
Yeah, that’s, like, my crowd. They always like when I do “Shake It To The Ground” because it’s dirty grime and dirty bass. I always feel like they really like the gritty side of what I do and that bass that just makes you just go CRAZY. They’ve loved it since day one and they love it to this day. They really embrace, like, it’s crazy.
Because I come from the hood as well, I’m not gonna sit here and be like ‘Imma make a hood track! Imma be so gangster because I’m from the hood!’ I’ve personally loved to dance since I was a child so I would rather make music that makes me dance. It also makes other people dance and that’s why they love it.
Blaqstarr & Rye Rye, “Shake It To The Ground”
Speaking of dance music, I like that you worked with Egyptian Lover on the song “Rock Off Shake Off.” What was that experience like?
Oh yeah! When I first worked with Egyptian Lover and Arabian Prince I didn’t know who they were. They were telling me how they’ve done so much stuff back in the day and it was cool though because I just thought they were producers that M.I.A. brought in. Then I found out who they were. They was real cool and loved everything that I did. They didn’t try to change nothing. They just said do what you want to do on the song and they were real humble and down to earth. It was almost like working with people that I know.
Are you a fan of that classic electro and breakbeat sound?
No, I liked it back when I was growing up but I really don’t listen to it now. I’m listening to more R&B than anything on my down time.
Finally, any club recommendations in Baltimore? What club should people hit if they want hear that Bmore sound?
The Paradox. That’s the number one club. Paradox on a Friday night that’s where you hear all the Baltimore club music and you get to see all the dancers. At any other club they barely play Baltimore club beats because they think they too good for it. Paradox is the only club you going to get that Baltimore feel from back in the day ’til now.
How long have you been going there?
I’ve been going there for about five or six years. I shot my “Bang” video there. I shot a few videos there because that’s the only club that all dancers go to and feel comfortable and that’s the only place where they play Baltimore club music. All the other clubs people be thinking they too good or bougey or uptight but the Paradox gives you that whole feel.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in the Paradox?
Nothing really so crazy. If you go there you’re basically going to see big circles of people dancing and people jumping in and out. You will see a lot of competing there. There used to be a lot of fights back in the day like if you lose a dance there, some people would wanna fight but now it’s like everybody became a family. Nothing bad or crazy happens there. You see a lot of dancing. You see a lot people vibing off to the music. You just get that old school Baltimore feel. That’s it.
Rye Rye feat. M.I.A., “Bang”