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RJ Talks 'MrLA' Mixtape, Signing to YG & DJ Mustard's 400 Summers Label & Why He's the New Age Busta Rhymes on Stage

RJ
 Kenneth Wynn

RJ

As a bevy of West Coast artists continue to leave indelible marks on the rap scene, one is hoping to join his peers on the race to stardom. RJ -- born Rodney J. Brown Jr. -- has quickly proven that he has the tools needed to become a formidable force under YG and DJ Mustard's new record label 400 Summers.  

Undeterred by the pressure of being the first artist under 400 Summers, this past May, RJ adroitly carved together his new mixtape MrLA with notable features from Quavo, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, and ScHoolboy Q. For RJ, his candor and penchant for penning the "harsh realities" that often hamper his city of Los Angeles, has been his main ingredients to success. Songs like "Brackin'" and "Thank God" conveys his ability to thrive over hard-hitting beats -- courtesy of DJ Mustard -- while also staying true to his roots. 

Billboard sat down with RJ to speak on his new mixtape MrLA, the best advice he received from DJ Mustard and YG, if he plans to release another project for his OMMIO series, and why he compares his stage presence to "old Busta Rhymes."

You just dropped your project MrLA. What's been the reception for the mixtape so far? 

RJ: They lovin' it. I'm getting a lot of positive feedback from just outside the state and outside the city. They're judging it like an album, but it's really a mixtape, so that's an honor when they take it to the next level like that. 

You definitely show flashes of potential on MrLA, especially on "Want Me Broke," since you showed a more lyrical side on that song.  

That's what it's all about, man. I just always want to let the fans know that I'm a spitta first, you feel me? But, at the same time, it's all about money. It's a business, so you gotta make hits. I be trying to make the hits bangers. I be trying to put a lot into it, like the whole package, so nobody could complain. You're always gonna have somebody complaining. You're always gonna have somebody like, 'Ah, my artist is better,' or something like that. I just wanna at least give my fans a fight, or an argument. 

You're the first artist signed to YG and DJ Mustard's 400 Summers label. What do you think you're going to have to do to set the tempo moving forward? 

I just think that I'm going to have to continue to do what I've been doing. Before I inked a deal with them, I was on the ground running. We was just selling out major venues and selling out shows here and there. We had fans coming in and doing meet and greets. I've been doing my thang on the ground running. So now that I'm with them and finalized everything, it's just more so a powerhouse. I just gotta keep doing my thang and take what I've been doing to the world. I just wanna show the world what we've been doing. It's a good team right now. I think what I gotta keep doing is doing me because I have high expectations for myself. I'm real big on myself. If I f--k up, that means everything to me because we only have one chance. 

Earlier, you mentioned being a spitta. Obviously, you're from L.A. and have West Coast influences, but outside of California, who did you look up to on the East Coast? 

Man, we have Nas, JAY-Z. For a while, JAY-Z wasn't even considered a hard-ass rapper. Through the years, you go back to his s--t and you be like, 'Damn. This n---a was saying some s--t.' You got Outkast with Andre 3000. He was dope. That's just off the top of my head. They were like one of the first artists that I was tuned into as far as lyricism. Then, there's Biggie, of course. Them older cats were like the predecessors who were putting it down.

Even for a while, when you hear some of them tapes, T.I. used to be spitting. To all of our predecessors, we at least owe a right to have something to say, you feel me? Just because of where we came from. Even though it's the entertainment business, you'll always need that one artist who's saying some s--t. You can have a million n----as having fun and all that, but then, you're gonna have to have that one artist who's saying something. I feel like I'm always gonna be that person.

With YG and Mustard providing you the proper tutelage needed to succeed, what's the best advice that they've given you so far in your career? 

Mustard keeps me levelheaded. YG keeps me levelheaded, too. Usually, they just tell me to be myself, that I need to be more active. See, I'm less active. I'm not as active as them. I'm not a social media head. I had deleted my Instagram and I brought it back when the tape dropped to just start fresh. I just wanted to give everybody a new idea and a new image of what's going on. I'm not that big on social media because of where I come from. I come from where there wasn't even cell phones. I don't come from the cell phone era. I don't come from the Instagram era -- that's what I meant to say. I just come from being from the streets and just doing my thang. 

So when it came about, I'm just more so resistant to it, but I'm realizing that this is what your fans want to see, you feel me? I gotta get used to it. I used to be like a secretive person. Anti-social type s--t, but when you're doing this s--t, you want to give your fans all of you as much as you can. So I'm just trying to get back into the social media world and be more active with it. So they've tried to get me on that, too. They'll just tell me to do my thang with that because they're heavy on social media. When it comes to the music, they just pretty much let me do my s--t. When it comes to music, they be like, 'Man, pick a beat. What you wanna do with this and that? I got a song for you and this and that.' We just have fun -- that's all I wanna do. 

Even though my lyrics is like a taste of harsh reality, I still just want to have fun with it. I want to make party music because I want people to feel good about themselves. I don't want everybody to be gloomy all the time. Yeah, we have gloomy days and stuff like that, but I don't want it to be like that all the time. I want it to be like motherf---ers dancing at a funeral.

You and Mustard have proven to have great chemistry together on tracks. If you can pick your three favorite Mustard beats that he has produced for you, which ones would you choose and why? 

"Watch What You Say," "Hoes Come Easy" and "Main B--ch."

For one, I do shows heavy. Frequently. So they go crazy, especially when I do "Hoes Come Easy." "Hoes Come Easy" could have been a top hit for sure, it's just we didn't push it. I was independent. I didn't know what the f--k I was doing. "Main B---h" is a good record, too. They're fun records and they feel good. Those were the top beats that Mustard threw to me that I got the most love for and recognition for. 

You have the MrLA tour coming up. How would you describe your stage presence for someone who hasn't seen you live? 

It's real personal. I can be standing in front of a stoop on the stairs and you're gonna be like, "Damn. Let me hear some more." During the show, it gets energetic and it gets real live and real lit. I'm one of the first ones who started going in crowds and sh-t. Real sh-t. I'm just so independent and underground that people don't see that. I'm one of the first ones from L.A. with high energy that's damn near like a Busta Rhymes on stage. The old school Busta Rhymes. I'm one of the first ones. I know this for a fact because nobody was doing this. I'm so underground that nobody would know that s--t, but my fans know. My shows are crazy, bro. They touch people. 

I did a show in New York on the F--k Donald Trump Tour [with YG] and I had people that never heard my music come to me like, 'Bro. I never heard you before. I'm gonna go and download all your s--t because your performance was amazing.' These are real words. It's a fact. So for people to tell me that, it's like I know I'm doing the right thing because I try to leave a 132 percent on the stage every time. I try to damn near leave my body there, my presence there. I need to be felt because you never know if it's the first time or the last time that's somebody's gonna see you. You never know. So that last impression needs to be the most memorable. I try to do that. It can be five people or five thousand, I'm gonna be the same. It's gonna be lit. 

If you can pick your favorite feature from MrLA, who would it be and why?

I wanna say the Ty Dolla $ign record ["Is It Mine"] because it's for the ladies. They love it and it shows my versatility. It shows a softer side. That one was dope, but that Blac Youngsta record ["Thank God"] -- shout out Quavo too because he did his sh-t. Earl Swavey is on there, too. He's from my hood, but [Blac Youngsta] was in the studio when he told me he was gonna do that record. When he did the record, it was 7:30 in the morning. I was like, 'Wow, cuz. That's impressive. I respect that.' He told me he was going to do it and he did it.

 

The XXL freshman list recently came out. Are you disappointed that you didn't get on the cover? 

See, I'm over beating myself up about it because I felt like I should have been on there two years ago, especially when you're selling out venues that nobody could sell out. Selling out venues like 2,200 capacity. That's 2,000 people. Sold out and there's still like 100 more trying to get in. I take that as being somebody. It should be heard, it should get some spotlight. This is two years ago. I was like, 'Whoa. Where am I at? Why am I not on here?' So now it's like, 'Okay. I ain't tripping.' 

My biggest downfall was that I was only big in the West Coast. Now, I'm getting over here on the East and getting more exposure. I'm moving around and rubbing shoulders. I'm doing the business side of the talent, so I understand it now. I wasn't moving right. It's not too much on them. Magazines and blogs, they're on the East. There's not a lot on the West. So it's hard to get those looks when you're stuck over there, you feel me? But it is what it is. I'm not really sweating it no more, but that's my opinion. I feel like I should have been over there two years ago. So now when they look at it, they'll probably get me when I'm four years down the line. 

You have your mixtape series titled On My Mama I'm On. Are you considering adding another installment and coming out with a fourth project?

Everybody been asking me that. [Laughs] They were asking me about OMMIO 3 and when I put out the 3, it wasn't as good as the two, to some people. To me, it was perfect. I didn't have no features. I didn't have no major producers. It wasn't no Mustard on there. We were still homies, but I'm just saying that I took a different approach. I took the self approach, and it was a good project to me. It came out good and perfect, but a lot of the streets felt OMMIO 2 more than OMMIO 3.

So I reaped a lot of flack from that, but at the same time, I don't know. OMMIO 4? Maybe once I drop the album or something. I'm really focused on the album. I've been having an album idea for two years now, you feel me? The title and everything. I know my album is gonna be groundbreaking because I'm gonna do it like nobody doing it. Labels might not understand it yet. Artists, we're thinkers. So we think outside the box. Labels might not understand it and I might have to get them to understand it. 

What's going to make your debut album so groundbreaking from everybody else's projects? 

You're going to have to wait and see. That's what I'm telling you. I'm pretty sure nobody has sold their album the way I'm thinking. 

Are you going to go the Nipsey Hussle route in terms of how you sell your albums?

The price ain't the thing. It's the vision.

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