Rising Rapper Russ on His '10-Year, 11-Album, 87-Song Overnight Success'

Steven Taylor
Russ

Over the past decade, rapper and DIEMON crew member Russ has made a name for himself as an Atlanta artist to watch. The recent success of his first Hot 100 hit “What They Want” -- which peaked at No. 83 -- may cause some to label him as a hot new artist; but, on the contrary, he is a self-described “10-year, 11-album, 87-song overnight success.”

Russ -- who tells Billboard he first expressed interest in hip-hop at age 7, “Why else do you do what you do when you’re 7? Because it’s natural” -- says he always knew “What They Want” was a smash and that its success came as no surprise. A proponent of Soundcloud, Russ put out a song a week on the platform until one finally took off, though he stresses his success is more than one hit. He spoke with Billboard about how his first Hot 100 hit has allowed fans to discover the rest of his catalog, where he gets his unwavering sense of self-confidence from, and more.

Do you remember when and how you first got into hip hop?
Russ:
I didn’t get into music, music got into me. I’ve been making beats for 10 years, I’m 24; I’ve been making beats for 10 years and before I even had a Soundcloud I dropped 11 self-produced albums and that’s the narrative that I really want people to understand, this is not just “What They Want.” “What They Want” is one of 87 songs on my Soundcloud, which is after my 11 albums that I produced, engineered and wrote. That’s really the background, that’s really why I can go do shows in all these cities and sell it out because I have real fans and I have a real catalog. So, “What They Want” is just the first one that went as far as it did, for whatever reason, and if you come to a show of mine I do 34 songs and “What They Want” is the last one; [it's] helping people discover the catalog, which is super important to me.

Since you’ve been doing this so long, was there a time you questioned yourself or felt your confidence was wavering?
Absolutely never. No, that’s the thing… There’s never been a time where there was doubt. I was never a big reader but before I started this whole journey I read a couple books that were really super impactful on my mindset and one of the books was Magic Ladder to Success by Napoleon Hill; there’s a chapter in there where it’s talking about [how] doubt is the opposite of creativity and it’s so true. I learned from a really early point that you can’t even allow doubt to creep in. I’m as confident in myself when my shit sounded like shit, so when my shit started to sound good I was like, “Yo, what?”

When I made “What They Want” I was going crazy. When I made “Losin Control” I was going crazy, when I made all the songs that are on my Soundcloud, every time I was out I went crazy like it was still the first song that I made. So I think there was no room to doubt because I was so in love with music and so in love with the process. I would have only doubted myself if I was really attached to the result of what I was doing, but I was always doing it and will always do it for the love of making songs, and if you liked it you liked it, if you didn’t you didn’t. It was always pure and always will be pure.

How does it feel to now have your first Hot 100 hit?
So epic. It’s really epic. It feels good to know that taste gets confirmed, because that’s what this whole art music world is: taste. You could think that your shit is super super dope, but if no one else thinks it’s dope then you might not see the results. Like I said, maybe you may not be doing it for the results at all, but it’s nice to know that what I think is fresh, a lot of other people think is fresh too. Especially like I said, I really want the narrative in this interview and every interview to harp on the fact that I produce, mix, master, engineer everything and I have a million f------ songs out, [“What They Want”] is just one.

It’s not that I rap with someone else’s beat and someone else mixed it and someone else mastered it and someone else engineered it and now it’s on the Hot 100. What’s super fulfilling is that it’s an original beat with no samples, I created those keys, I did the drum patters with my fucking hands, I mixed it, I mastered it, I engineered it, I wrote the s---, and it went Hot 100. That’s just like, damn. I was f------ right. I really know what I’m talking about. It’s super confirming, that’s why I have a song called “Always Knew,” always knew that this was going to work.

Looking ahead to 2017 what else do you have in store?
I’m getting so many No. 1s. At the end of the day, to me “What They Want” is epic, I love [that song] and when I made it I thought it was a smash. “What They Want,” though, is not a better song than “Losin Control and “Losin Control” is not a better song than the other s--- I have on my album.

I’m really questioning if I want to do any more interviews because people always f------ twist my words and they end up pushing the wrong narrative and people end up taking my s--- wrong, so I just really want to harp that, look this is not just one song, this is not just some cocky piece of s--- who got one song on Soundcloud and started buzzing and now talks s---. Nah, this is 11 albums of f------ mental fortitude, they all f------ flopped and I’m still f------ here. And then I put out a song a week on Soundcloud that I f------ produced, mixed, mastered and engineered myself and one of them started finally to take off, but so did “Losin Control,” so did the whole f------ catalog. That’s why I talk the s--- that I talk, that’s why I believe in myself, that’s why I tour around the world and sell out all these shows, and that’s why I’m not going anywhere because I already do two and a half hours on stage. So what 2017 is going to be is the complete understanding, I feel like, from the rest of the world that it’s not just “What They Want” and it’s not just this Soundcloud thing and I think people are starting to see that. So I’m excited for people to wake up, and I’m excited to have a platform to effect change and say dope s--- and do dope s---, because there are a lot of f------ cornballs out here with platforms that are not doing s--- and not talking about s---, so I’m excited.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Dec. 17 issue of Billboard.